Categorical Perception of Speech (VOT) and Analogous Non-Speech (FOT) Signals: Behavioral and Electrophysiological Correlates

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Abstract

Objective:

To determine whether voicing perception is influenced primarily by linguistic experience or if it is due to innate temporal sensitivity to voicing boundaries, by examining behavioral and electrophysiological correlates of speech Voice-Onset-Time (VOT) and nonspeech Formant-Onset-Time (FOT) categorical perception.

Design:

Behavioral measures and auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) were obtained from 14 normal-hearing Hebrew speakers, whose voicing distinction is different than English, during identification and discrimination of two sets of stimuli: a VOT continuum, created by editing natural productions of /ba/ and /pa/, and an analogous nonspeech continuum, composed of two synthesized formants, varying in their onset time–FOT.

Results:

VOT and FOT continua yielded similar behavioral identification curves. Differences between the two stimulus types were found in discrimination of within-category differences and in reaction time effects. During identification and discrimination tasks, ERPs were differently affected by the VOT or FOT value of the stimulus: VOT value had a significant effect on N1 latency and on N1 and P2 amplitudes whereas FOT value had a significant effect on P2 amplitude. Additionally, during identification tasks, whereas all speech signals evoked a P3, regardless of overt categorization, only the perceptually “rare” nonspeech stimulus (+15 msec FOT) evoked a P3.

Conclusions:

Voicing boundaries corresponded to Hebrew VOT values of production, suggesting that voicing perception in Hebrew is mediated mainly by linguistic experience rather than by innate temporal sensitivity. ERP data differed to VOT versus FOT stimuli as early as N1, indicating that brain processing of the temporal aspects of speech and nonspeech signals differ from their early stages. Further studies to establish the neural response patterns to voicing in speakers of languages that use different voicing categories than English are warranted.

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