Pitch accent in spoken-word recognition in Japanese

Cutler, A., & Otake, T. (1999). Pitch accent in spoken-word recognition in Japanese. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 105, 1877-1888.
Three experiments addressed the question of whether pitch-accent information may be exploited in the process of recognizing spoken words in Tokyo Japanese. In a two-choice classification task, listeners judged from which of two words, differing in accentual structure, isolated syllables had been extracted ~e.g., ka from baka HL or gaka LH!; most judgments were correct, and listeners’ decisions were correlated with the fundamental frequency characteristics of the syllables. In a gating experiment, listeners heard initial fragments of words and guessed what the words were; their guesses overwhelmingly had the same initial accent structure as the gated word even when only the beginning CV of the stimulus ~e.g., na- from nagasa HLL or nagashi LHH! was presented. In addition, listeners were more confident in guesses with the same initial accent structure as the stimulus than in guesses with different accent. In a lexical decision experiment, responses to spoken words ~e.g., ame HL! were speeded by previous presentation of the same word ~e.g., ame HL! but not by previous presentation of a word differing only in accent ~e.g., ame LH!. Together these findings provide strong evidence that accentual information constrains the activation and selection of candidates for spoken-word recognition.
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