The foreign language cocktail party problem: energetic and informational masking effects in non-native speech perception

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

Studies comparing native and non-native listener performance on speech perception tasks candistinguish the roles of general auditory and language-independent processes from those involvingprior knowledge of a given language. Previous experiments have demonstrated a performancedisparity between native and non-native listeners on tasks involving sentence processing in noise.However, the effects of energetic and informational masking have not been explicitly distinguished.Here, English and Spanish listener groups identified keywords in English sentences in quiet andmasked by either stationary noise or a competing utterance, conditions known to producepredominantly energetic and informational masking, respectively. In the stationary noise conditions,non-native talkers suffered more from increasing levels of noise for two of the three keywordsscored. In the competing talker condition, the performance differential also increased with maskerlevel. A computer model of energetic masking in the competing talker condition ruled out thepossibility that the native advantage could be explained wholly by energetic masking. Both groupsdrew equal benefit from differences in mean F0 between target and masker, suggesting thatprocesses which make use of this cue do not engage language-specific knowledge.