Language-independent processing in speech perception: identification of English intervocalic consonants by speakers of eight European languages


Abstract  Processing speech in a non-native language requires listeners to cope with influences from their first language and to overcome the effects of limited exposure and experience. These factors may be particularly important when listening in adverse conditions. However, native listeners also suffer in noise, and the intelligibility of speech in noise clearly depends on factors which are independent of a listener's first language. The current study explored the issue of language-independence by comparing the responses of eight listener groups differing in native language when confronted with the task of identifying English intervocalic consonants in three masker backgrounds, viz. stationary speech-shaped noise, temporally-modulated speech-shaped noise and competing English speech. The study analysed the effects of (i) noise type, (ii) speaker, (iii) vowel context, (iv) consonant, (v) phonetic feature classes, (vi) stress position, (vii) gender and (viii) stimulus onset relative to noise onset. A significant degree of similarity in the response to many of these factors was evident across all eight language groups, suggesting that acoustic and auditory considerations play a large role in determining intelligibility. Language-specific influences were observed in the rankings of individual consonants and in the masking effect of competing speech relative to speech-modulated noise. [Revised manuscript in review Feb 11 2010]

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