Formant transitions in fricative identification: The role of native fricative inventory

Wagner, A., Ernestus, M., & Cutler, A. (2006). Formant transitions in fricative identification: The role of native fricative inventory. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 120(4), 2267-2277. doi:10.1121/1.2335422.
The distribution of energy across the noise spectrum provides the primary cues for the identification of a fricative. Formant transitions have been reported to play a role in identification of some fricatives, but the combined results so far are conflicting. We report five experiments testing the hypothesis that listeners differ in their use of formant transitions as a function of the presence of spectrally similar fricatives in their native language. Dutch, English, German, Polish, and Spanish native listeners performed phoneme monitoring experiments with pseudowords containing either coherent or misleading formant transitions for the fricatives / s / and / f /. Listeners of German and Dutch, both languages without spectrally similar fricatives, were not affected by the misleading formant transitions. Listeners of the remaining languages were misled by incorrect formant transitions. In an untimed labeling experiment both Dutch and Spanish listeners provided goodness ratings that revealed sensitivity to the acoustic manipulation. We conclude that all listeners may be sensitive to mismatching information at a low auditory level, but that they do not necessarily take full advantage of all available systematic acoustic variation when identifying phonemes. Formant transitions may be most useful for listeners of languages with spectrally similar fricatives.
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