Production and Perception of Speech Intonation in Pediatric Cochlear Implant Recipients and Individuals with Normal Hearing

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Objectives:Current cochlear implant (CI) devices are limited in providing voice pitch information that is critical for listeners' recognition of prosodic contrasts of speech (e.g., intonation and lexical tones). As a result, mastery of the production and perception of such speech contrasts can be very challenging for prelingually deafened individuals who received a CI in their childhood (i.e., pediatric CI recipients). The purpose of this study was to investigate (a) pediatric CI recipients' mastery of the production and perception of speech intonation contrasts, in comparison with their age-matched peers with normal hearing (NH), and (b) the relationships between intonation production and perception in CI and NH individuals.Design:Twenty-six pediatric CI recipients aged from 7.44 to 20.74 yrs and 17 age-matched individuals with NH participated. All CI users were prelingually deafened, and each of them received a CI between 1.48 and 6.34 yrs of age. Each participant performed an intonation production task and an intonation perception task. In the production task, 10 questions and 10 statements that were syntactically matched (e.g., “The girl is on the playground.” versus “The girl is on the playground?”) were elicited from each participant using interactive discourse involving pictures. These utterances were judged by a panel of eight adult listeners with NH in terms of utterance type accuracy (question versus statement) and contour appropriateness (on a five-point scale). In the perception task, each participant identified the speech intonation contrasts of natural utterances in a two-alternative forced-choice task.Results:The results from the production task indicated that CI participants' scores for both utterance type accuracy and contour appropriateness were significantly lower than the scores of NH participants (both p < 0.001). The results from the perception task indicated that CI participants' identification accuracy was significantly lower than that of their NH peers (CI, 70.13% versus NH, 97.11%, p < 0.001). The Pearson correlation coefficients (r) between CI participants' performance levels in the production and perception tasks were approximately 0.65 (p = 0.001).Conclusion:As a group, pediatric CI recipients do not show mastery of speech intonation in their production or perception to the same extent as their NH peers. Pediatric CI recipients' performance levels in the production and perception of speech intonation contrasts are moderately correlated. Intersubject variability exists in pediatric CI recipients' mastery levels in the production and perception of speech intonation contrasts. These findings suggest the importance of addressing both aspects (production and perception) of speech intonation in the aural rehabilitation and speech intervention programs for prelingually deafened children and young adults who use a CI.

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