Strategic deployment of orthographic knowledge in phoneme detection

Cutler, A., Treiman, R., & Van Ooijen, B. (2010). Strategic deployment of orthographic knowledge in phoneme detection. Language and Speech, 53(3), 307 -320. doi:10.1177/0023830910371445.
The phoneme detection task is widely used in spoken-word recognition research. Alphabetically literate participants, however, are more used to explicit representations of letters than of phonemes. The present study explored whether phoneme detection is sensitive to how target phonemes are, or may be, orthographically realized. Listeners detected the target sounds [b, m, t, f, s, k] in word-initial position in sequences of isolated English words. Response times were faster to the targets [b, m, t], which have consistent word-initial spelling, than to the targets [f, s, k], which are inconsistently spelled, but only when spelling was rendered salient by the presence in the experiment of many irregularly spelled filler words. Within the inconsistent targets [f, s, k], there was no significant difference between responses to targets in words with more usual (foam, seed, cattle) versus less usual (phone, cede, kettle) spellings. Phoneme detection is thus not necessarily sensitive to orthographic effects; knowledge of spelling stored in the lexical representations of words does not automatically become available as word candidates are activated. However, salient orthographic manipulations in experimental input can induce such sensitivity. We attribute this to listeners' experience of the value of spelling in everyday situations that encourage phonemic decisions (such as learning new names)
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