The dynamic nature of speech perception

McQueen, J. M., Norris, D., & Cutler, A. (2006). The dynamic nature of speech perception. Language and Speech, 49(1), 101-112.
The speech perception system must be flexible in responding to the variability in speech sounds caused by differences among speakers and by language change over the lifespan of the listener. Indeed, listeners use lexical knowledge to retune perception of novel speech (Norris, McQueen, & Cutler, 2003). In that study, Dutch listeners made lexical decisions to spoken stimuli, including words with an ambiguous fricative (between [f] and [s]), in either [f]- or [s]-biased lexical contexts. In a subsequent categorization test, the former group of listeners identified more sounds on an [εf] - [εs] continuum as [f] than the latter group. In the present experiment, listeners received the same exposure and test stimuli, but did not make lexical decisions to the exposure items. Instead, they counted them. Categorization results were indistinguishable from those obtained earlier. These adjustments in fricative perception therefore do not depend on explicit judgments during exposure. This learning effect thus reflects automatic retuning of the interpretation of acoustic-phonetic information.
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