Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Prosodic Cues for Morphological Complexity: The Case of Dutch Plural Nouns

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Prosodic Cues for Morphological Complexity: The Case of Dutch Plural Nouns

Article excerpt

It has recently been shown that listeners use systematic differences in vowel length and intonation to resolve ambiguities between onset-matched simple words (Davis, Marslen-Wilson, & Gaskell, 2002; Salverda, Dahan, & McQueen, 2003). The present study shows that listeners also use prosodic information in the speech signal to optimize morphological processing. The precise acoustic realization of the stem provides crucial information to the listener about the morphological context in which the stem appears and attenuates the competition between stored inflectional variants. We argue that listeners are able to make use of prosodic information, even though the speech signal is highly variable within and between speakers, by virtue of the relative invariance of the duration of the onset. This provides listeners with a baseline against which the durational cues in a vowel and a coda can be evaluated. Furthermore, our experiments provide evidence for item-specific prosodie effects.

Several studies in the visual modality have shown surface frequency effects in the comprehension of fully regular inflections, thus providing evidence for storage of the inflected form as a whole at some level of representation. These effects have been shown for both nouns and verbs, and in several languages. For regularly inflected verbs, evidence for full form storage has been found for Dutch (Baayen, Schreuder, De Jong, & Krott, 2002; Schreuder, De Jong, Krott, & Baayen, 1999) and for English (AIegre & Gordon, 1999). For regularly inflected nouns, evidence for full form storage has been found for Dutch (Baayen, Dijkstra, & Schreuder, 1997), Finnish (Bertram, Laine, Baayen, Schreuder, & Hyönä, 1999), English (Alegre & Gordon, 1999; Sereno & Jongman, 1997), and Italian (Baayen, Burani, & Schreuder, 1997).

Recently, experiments in the auditory modality have also shown effects of full form frequency for both nominal and verbal regular inflections in Dutch, suggesting the existence of full form representations of regularly inflected forms in the auditory modality as well (Baayen, McQueen, Dijkstra, & Schreuder, 2003). This finding is surprising in the light of models of spoken-word recognition that incorporate some form of lexical competition, such as the revised cohort model (Marslen-Wilson, 1990; Marslen-Wilson, Moss, & Van Halen, 1996), TRACE (McClelland & Elman, 1986), and Shortlist (Norris, 1994). In these models, stored regularly inflected forms would be cohort competitors of their corresponding uninflected forms: In many languages (e.g., Dutch, German, and English), the uninflected form is onset embedded in the longer inflected form, and thus, at the phonemic level, the signal is ambiguous until the offset of the last phoneme of the stem (e.g., uninflected [singular] form, book; inflected [plural] form, books}. In other words, the two candidates will keep on competing for recognition (i.e., in some models, inhibiting one another) until after offset of the uninflected form. Storage of regularly inflected forms creates a recognition problem in the domain of inflection, similar to the recognition problem that exists outside the domain of inflection-as, for example, in the perception of onset-embedded words that have longer, morphologically unrelated comoetitors. such as ham in hamster.

In fact, evidence is accumulating that subtle subsegmental acoustic cues can reduce the ambiguity between onset-embedded words and their longer competitors, thus assisting the perceptual system in distinguishing them before the point in the acoustic signal at which disambiguating phonemic information comes in. Salverda, Dahan, and McQueen (2003) recorded participants' eye movements while they listened to Dutch sentences including a word with an onset-embedded word (e.g., hamster containing ham}. The subjects saw four pictures of objects on a computer screen and were instructed to use the computer mouse to move the picture of the object that was mentioned in the sentence. …

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