Segmentation of speech: Child's play?

Scharenborg, O., Ernestus, M., & Wan, V. (2007). Segmentation of speech: Child's play? In H. van Hamme, & R. van Son (Eds.), Proceedings of Interspeech 2007 (pp. 1953-1956). Adelaide: Causal Productions.
The difficulty of the task of segmenting a speech signal into its words is immediately clear when listening to a foreign language; it is much harder to segment the signal into its words, since the words of the language are unknown. Infants are faced with the same task when learning their first language. This study provides a better understanding of the task that infants face while learning their native language. We employed an automatic algorithm on the task of speech segmentation without prior knowledge of the labels of the phonemes. An analysis of the boundaries erroneously placed inside a phoneme showed that the algorithm consistently placed additional boundaries in phonemes in which acoustic changes occur. These acoustic changes may be as great as the transition from the closure to the burst of a plosive or as subtle as the formant transitions in low or back vowels. Moreover, we found that glottal vibration may attenuate the relevance of acoustic changes within obstruents. An interesting question for further research is how infants learn to overcome the natural tendency to segment these ‘dynamic’ phonemes.
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