The Time Course of Speech Perception and Production in Individual Language Users

Patrice Speeter Beddor and Andries W. Coetzee

The relation between speech production and perception is a foundational issue for theories of production and perception, and is similarly central to current approaches to the phonetics of sound change. This project explores the dynamics of perception in relation to the dynamics of production for the individual language user. The work is guided by the hypothesis that a language user’s perception and production repertoires or grammars are complexly related in ways that are mediated by wide-ranging (linguistic, social, psychological, and other) factors.

The focus of the project is coarticulation, that is, the overlapping articulatory movements necessary for fluent, comprehensible speech. Three studies are proposed, each of which addresses, for a targeted coarticulatory property, the following questions: (i) What is the time course of perception of coarticulated speech? (ii) What is the time course of the articulatory, aerodynamic, and/or acoustic consequences of the overlapping speech gestures? (iii) For the individual language user, what is the relation between (i) and (ii), that is, what is the relation between a listener’s dynamic use of coarticulatory information as the acoustic signal unfolds in real time and that language user’s own coarticulated productions? Listeners’ real-time processing of the acoustic signal is monitored using eye-tracking methods; the time course of production is assessed via airflow, ultrasound imaging, and acoustic analysis.

Study 1 focuses on the basic questions in (i)-(iii). Study 2 explores these questions within a perceptual learning and articulatory imitation paradigm, asking whether those language users for whom a novel coarticulatory pattern especially facilitates perception are particularly likely to accommodate to that pattern in production. Study 3 extends questions (i)-(iii) to a socially conditioned pattern of coarticulation in Afrikaans, and asks whether, regardless of their own production patterns, language users might be perceptually highly tuned to a coarticulatory pattern that has social meaning. By investigating spontaneous and learned patterns of perception and production, as well as socially neutral (American English) and socially indexed (Afrikaans) coarticulatory patterns, the project aims to tap into possibly diverse links between language users’ perception and production grammars.

An overarching goal of studying the production-perception relation in individual language users is to understand how linguistic structures are represented in the human mind. Elucidating this relation in its social context should also contribute to an understanding of how individual differences in these structures might serve as a source of new sound patterns that spread through a speech community.

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