The abstract representations in speech processing

Cutler, A. (2008). The abstract representations in speech processing. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61(11), 1601-1619. doi:10.1080/13803390802218542.
Speech processing by human listeners derives meaning from acoustic input via intermediate steps involving abstract representations of what has been heard. Recent results from several lines of research are here brought together to shed light on the nature and role of these representations. In spoken-word recognition, representations of phonological form and of conceptual content are dissociable. This follows from the independence of patterns of priming for a word's form and its meaning. The nature of the phonological-form representations is determined not only by acoustic-phonetic input but also by other sources of information, including metalinguistic knowledge. This follows from evidence that listeners can store two forms as different without showing any evidence of being able to detect the difference in question when they listen to speech. The lexical representations are in turn separate from prelexical representations, which are also abstract in nature. This follows from evidence that perceptual learning about speaker-specific phoneme realization, induced on the basis of a few words, generalizes across the whole lexicon to inform the recognition of all words containing the same phoneme. The efficiency of human speech processing has its basis in the rapid execution of operations over abstract representations.
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