The consequences of lexical sensitivity to fine grained detail

Solving the problems of integrating cues and processing speech in time

McMurray, B., & Toscano, J. C. (2012, October). Paper presented at the 164th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, Kansas City, MO.

AbstractWork on language comprehension is classically divided into two fields. Speech perception asks how listeners cope with variability from factors like talker and coarticulation to compute some phoneme-like unit; and word recognition assumed these units to ask how listeners cope with time and match the input to the lexicon. Evidence that within-category detail affects lexical activation (Andruski, et al., 1994; McMurray, et al., 2002) challenges this view: variability in the input is not “handled” by lower-level processes and instead survives until late in processing. However, the consequences of this have not been fleshed out. This talk begins to explore them using evidence from the eye-tracking paradigms. First, I show how lexical activation/competition processes can help cope with perceptual problems, by integrating acoustic cues that are strung out over time. Next, I examine a fundamental issue in word recognition, temporal order (e.g., distinguishing cat and tack). I present evidence that listeners represent words with little inherent order information, and raise the possibility that fine-grained acoustic detail may serve as a proxy for this. Together these findings suggest that real-time lexical processes may help cope with perceptual ambiguity, and that fine-grained perceptual detail may help listeners cope with the problem of time.

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