Inferring causes during speech perception

Published in: Cognition, Volume 174, May 2018, 55-70

“One of the central challenges in speech perception is the lack of invariance: talkers differ in how they map words onto the speech signal. Previous work has shown that one mechanism by which listeners overcome this variability is adaptation. However, talkers differ in how they pronounce words for a number of reasons, ranging from more permanent, characteristic factors such as having a foreign accent, to more temporary, incidental factors, such as speaking with a pen in the mouth. One challenge for listeners is that the true cause underlying atypical pronunciations is never directly known, and instead must be inferred from (often causally ambiguous) evidence. In three experiments, we investigate whether these inferences underlie speech perception, and how the speech perception system deals with uncertainty about competing causes for atypical pronunciations. We find that adaptation to atypical pronunciations is affected by whether the atypical pronunciations are seen as characteristic or incidental. Furthermore, we find that listeners are able to maintain information about previous causally ambiguous pronunciations that they experience, and use this previously experienced evidence to drive their adaptation after additional evidence has disambiguated the cause. Our findings revise previous proposals that causally ambiguous evidence is ignored during speech adaptation.”

Written by: Linda Liu, T. Florian Jaeger
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