Finding words and rules in a speech stream: functional differences between vowels and consonants

TitleFinding words and rules in a speech stream: functional differences between vowels and consonants
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsToro JM, Nespor M, Mehler J, Bonatti L
JournalPsychological Science
Volume19
Pagination137–144
Date Published02/2008
ISSN0956-7976
KeywordsAdult, Attention, Female, Humans, Male, Phonetics, Speech Perception, Verbal Behavior, Vocabulary
Abstract

We have proposed that consonants give cues primarily about the lexicon, whereas vowels carry cues about syntax. In a study supporting this hypothesis, we showed that when segmenting words from an artificial continuous stream, participants compute statistical relations over consonants, but not over vowels. In the study reported here, we tested the symmetrical hypothesis that when participants listen to words in a speech stream, they tend to exploit relations among vowels to extract generalizations, but tend to disregard the same relations among consonants. In our streams, participants could segment words on the basis of transitional probabilities in one tier and could extract a structural regularity in the other tier. Participants used consonants to extract words, but vowels to extract a structural generalization. They were unable to extract the same generalization using consonants, even when word segmentation was facilitated and the generalization made simpler. Our results suggest that different signal-driven computations prime lexical and grammatical processing.

URLhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18271861