Cross-language differences in cue use for speech segmentation

Tyler, M., & Cutler, A. (2009). Cross-language differences in cue use for speech segmentation. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 126, 367-376. doi:10.1121/1.3129127.
Two artificial-language learning experiments directly compared English, French, and Dutch listeners’ use of suprasegmental cues for continuous-speech segmentation. In both experiments, listeners heard unbroken sequences of consonant-vowel syllables, composed of recurring three- and four-syllable “words.” These words were demarcated by(a) no cue other than transitional probabilities induced by their recurrence, (b) a consistent left-edge cue, or (c) a consistent right-edge cue. Experiment 1 examined a vowel lengthening cue. All three listener groups benefited from this cue in right-edge position; none benefited from it in left-edge position. Experiment 2 examined a pitch-movement cue. English listeners used this cue in left-edge position, French listeners used it in right-edge position, and Dutch listeners used it in both positions. These findings are interpreted as evidence of both language-universal and language-specific effects. Final lengthening is a language-universal effect expressing a more general (non-linguistic) mechanism. Pitch movement expresses prominence which has characteristically different placements across languages: typically at right edges in French, but at left edges in English and Dutch. Finally, stress realization in English versus Dutch encourages greater attention to suprasegmental variation by Dutch than by English listeners, allowing Dutch listeners to benefit from an informative pitch-movement cue even in an uncharacteristic position.
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