Phonological abstraction in the mental lexicon
McQueen, J. M., Cutler, A., & Norris, D.
Phonological abstraction in the mental lexicon. Cognitive Science, 30
(6), 1113-1126. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0000_79.
A perceptual learning experiment provides evidence that the mental lexicon cannot consist solely of
detailed acoustic traces of recognition episodes. In a training lexical decision phase, listeners heard an
ambiguous [f–s] fricative sound, replacing either [f] or [s] in words. In a test phase, listeners then made
lexical decisions to visual targets following auditory primes. Critical materials were minimal pairs that
could be a word with either [f] or [s] (cf. English knife–nice), none of which had been heard in training.
Listeners interpreted the minimal pair words differently in the second phase according to the training received
in the first phase. Therefore, lexically mediated retuning of phoneme perception not only influences
categorical decisions about fricatives (Norris, McQueen, & Cutler, 2003), but also benefits recognition
of words outside the training set. The observed generalization across words suggests that this
retuning occurs prelexically. Therefore, lexical processing involves sublexical phonological abstraction,
not only accumulation of acoustic episodes.