Listeners track talker-specific prosody to deal with talker-variability
Severijnen, G. G. A., Bosker, H. R., Piai, V., & McQueen, J. M.
Listeners track talker-specific prosody to deal with talker-variability. Brain Research, 1769
: 147605. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2021.147605.
One of the challenges in speech perception is that listeners must deal with considerable
segmental and suprasegmental variability in the acoustic signal due to differences between talkers. Most previous studies have focused on how listeners deal with segmental variability.
In this EEG experiment, we investigated whether listeners track talker-specific usage of suprasegmental cues to lexical stress to recognize spoken words correctly. In a three-day training phase, Dutch participants learned to map non-word minimal stress pairs onto different object referents (e.g., USklot meant “lamp”; usKLOT meant “train”). These non-words were
produced by two male talkers. Critically, each talker used only one suprasegmental cue to signal stress (e.g., Talker A used only F0 and Talker B only intensity). We expected participants to learn which talker used which cue to signal stress. In the test phase, participants indicated whether spoken sentences including these non-words were correct (“The word for lamp is…”).
We found that participants were slower to indicate that a stimulus was correct if the non-word was produced with the unexpected cue (e.g., Talker A using intensity). That is, if in training Talker A used F0 to signal stress, participants experienced a mismatch between predicted and perceived phonological word-forms if, at test, Talker A unexpectedly used intensity to cue
stress. In contrast, the N200 amplitude, an event-related potential related to phonological
prediction, was not modulated by the cue mismatch. Theoretical implications of these
contrasting results are discussed. The behavioral findings illustrate talker-specific prediction of prosodic cues, picked up through perceptual learning during training.