Listener adjustment of stress cue use to fit language vocabulary structure

Bruggeman, L., Yu, J., & Cutler, A. (2022). Listener adjustment of stress cue use to fit language vocabulary structure. In S. Frota, M. Cruz, & M. Vigário (Eds.), Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2022 (pp. 264-267). doi:10.21437/SpeechProsody.2022-54.
In lexical stress languages, phonemically identical syllables can differ suprasegmentally (in duration, amplitude, F0). Such stress
cues allow listeners to speed spoken-word recognition by rejecting mismatching competitors (e.g., unstressed set- in settee
rules out stressed set- in setting, setter, settle). Such processing effects have indeed been observed in Spanish, Dutch and German, but English listeners are known to largely ignore stress cues. Dutch and German listeners even outdo English listeners in distinguishing stressed versus unstressed English syllables. This has been attributed to the relative frequency across the stress languages of unstressed syllables with full vowels; in English most unstressed syllables contain schwa, instead, and stress cues on full vowels are thus least often informative in this language. If only informativeness matters, would English listeners who encounter situations where such cues would pay off for them (e.g., learning one of those other stress languages) then shift to using stress cues? Likewise, would stress cue users with English as L2, if mainly using English, shift away from
using the cues in English? Here we report tests of these two questions, with each receiving a yes answer. We propose that
English listeners’ disregard of stress cues is purely pragmatic.
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