Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Prolonged Influence of Subsequent Context on Spoken Word Recognition

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Prolonged Influence of Subsequent Context on Spoken Word Recognition

Article excerpt

Published online: 27 June 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Connine, Blasko, and Hall (Journal of Memory and Language 30:234-250, 1991) suggested that within a 1-second temporal window, subsequent biasing information can influence the identification of a previously spoken word. Four experiments further explored this hypothesis. Our participants heard sentences in which an ambiguous target word was followed less than or more than a second later by a word biased in favor of either the target word or another word. Overall, the effects of the contextual biases on responding, measured using phonemic restoration and phoneme identification, were almost as large after 1 second as before 1 second. The implications of these results for defining the window of contextual effects are discussed.

Keywords Spoken word recognition · Temporal window · Subsequent context effects · Phoneme restoration · Phoneme identification · Psycholinguistics · Speech perception

When hearing running speech, a listener must rapidly transform the continuous acoustic signal into the words that the talker intended. This task is complicated by the fact that the quality of the speech signal can vary in a number of ways, such as when the articulation varies in clarity or environmental noise masks the signal. Despite these challenges, listeners typically have little difficulty identifying the intended words. How is this accomplished?

One means of achieving successful word recognition is to utilize information in the surrounding sentential context. For example, in the utterance The feathers were on the = ing, where the = represents noise, feathers can help aid identification of the masked phoneme, since only if the masked phoneme were to be identified as /w/ would the sentence make sense. Ample examples have shown preceding context being used in this way (e.g., Borsky, Tuller, & Shapiro, 1998; Cole, Jakimik, & Cooper, 1980; Gaskell & Marslen-Wilson, 2001; Marslen-Wilson & Welsh, 1978; Samuel, 1981; van Alphen & McQueen, 2001). For example, Samuel (1981) demonstrated that the presence of a semantically biasing word caused listeners to perceptually restore a phoneme that had been intermixed with or replaced by noise (e.g., /b/ in ball) to yield a semantically coherent sentence (e.g., The boy swung his bat at the ball). Likewise, Marslen-Wilson and Welsh (1978) demonstrated that a highly constraining preceding context, as in He still wanted to smoke a . .. , could cause listeners to misperceive a pseudoword such as shigarette as the word cigarette more often than when the pseudoword was preceded by a low-constraining prior context, as in He noticed there was a shigarette.

Far less is known about what influence biasing information has on the identification of a preceding word (e.g., The = ing had feathers). It is possible that in order to maximize the speed with which word recognition occurs, if no prior influential context is available, the processor might delay word identification for a short period of time. If no further biasing information is perceived within this window of time, the processor simply commits to a lexical representation (right or wrong) on the basis of any available information.

Findings from Connine, Blasko, and Hall (1991; see also Samuel, unpublished manuscript) support this hypothesis. Specifically, they suggested that during an approximately 1-s temporal window, the processor will delay word identification to wait for additional contextual information to become available. To test this hypothesis, they presented listeners with sentences in which a target word had an onset ranging from a clear /t/ to a clear /d/, followed by a subsequent word that was biased toward one endpoint of the continuum (e.g., After the t/dent in the campgrounds collapsed, we went to a hotel, where the underlined portions represent the target phoneme and biasing word, respectively). They manipulated the distance between the target word and biasing word to determine whether there is a point in time after which subsequent biasing information no longer influences word recognition. …

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