When context is and isn't helpful: A corpus study of naturalistic speech.
Infants learn about the sounds of their language and adults process the sounds they hear, even though sound categories often overlap in their acoustics. Researchers have suggested that listeners rely on context for these tasks, and have proposed two main ways that context could be helpful: top-down information accounts, which argue that listeners use context to predict which sound will be produced, and normalization accounts, which argue that listeners compensate for the fact that the same sound is produced differently in different contexts by factoring out this systematic context-dependent variability from the acoustics. These ideas have been somewhat conflated in past research, and have rarely been tested on naturalistic speech. We implement top-down and normalization accounts separately and evaluate their relative efficacy on spontaneous speech, using the test case of Japanese vowels. We find that top-down information strategies are effective even on spontaneous speech. Surprisingly, we find that at least one common implementation of normalization is ineffective on spontaneous speech, in contrast to what has been found on lab speech. We provide analyses showing that when there are systematic regularities in which contexts different sounds occur in-which are common in naturalistic speech, but generally controlled for in lab speech-normalization can actually increase category overlap rather than decrease it. This work calls into question the usefulness of normalization in naturalistic listening tasks, and highlights the importance of applying ideas from carefully controlled lab speech to naturalistic, spontaneous speech.
Hitczenko, K; Mazuka, R; Elsner, M; Feldman, NH
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