Listeners integrate pitch and durational cues to prosodic structure in word categorization

Jeremy Steffman, Sun-Ah Jun


In this study we investigate how listeners perceive vowel duration as a cue to voicing based on changes in pitch height, using a 2AFC task in which they categorized a target word from a vowel duration continuum as coat or code. We consider this issue in light of (1) psychoacoustic perceptual interactions between pitch and duration and (2) compensatory effects for prosodically driven patterning of pitch and duration in the accentual/prominence-marking system of English. In two experiments we found that listeners' interpretation of pitch as a psychoacoustic, or prosodic event is dependent on continuum step size and range. In Experiment 1 listeners exemplified the expected psychoacoustic pattern in categorization. In Experiment 2, we altered the duration continuum in an attempt to highlight pitch as a language-specific prosodic property and found that listeners do indeed compensate for prosodically driven patterning of pitch and duration. The results thus highlight flexibility in listeners' interpretation of these acoustic dimensions. We argue that, in the right circumstances, prosodic patterns influence listeners' interpretation of pitch and expectations about vowel duration in the perception of isolated words. Results are discussed in terms of more general implications for listeners' perception of prosodic and segmental cues, and possibilities for cross-linguistic extension.


speech perception; prosody; psychoacoustics; prominence

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Copyright (c) 2019 Jeremy Steffman

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