Metrical Expectations From Preceding Prosody Influence Perception of Lexical Stress

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Two visual-world experiments tested the hypothesis that expectations based on preceding prosody influence the perception of suprasegmental cues to lexical stress. The results demonstrate that listeners’ consideration of competing alternatives with different stress patterns (e.g.,’jury/gi'raffe) can be influenced by the fundamental frequency and syllable timing patterns across material preceding a target word. When preceding stressed syllables distal to the target word shared pitch and timing characteristics with the first syllable of the target word, pictures of alternatives with primary lexical stress on the first syllable (e.g., jury) initially attracted more looks than alternatives with unstressed initial syllables (e.g., giraffe). This effect was modulated when preceding unstressed syllables had pitch and timing characteristics similar to the initial syllable of the target word, with more looks to alternatives with unstressed initial syllables (e.g., giraffe) than to those with stressed initial syllables (e.g., jury). These findings suggest that expectations about the acoustic realization of upcoming speech include information about metrical organization and lexical stress and that these expectations constrain the initial interpretation of suprasegmental stress cues. These distal prosody effects implicate online probabilistic inferences about the sources of acoustic–phonetic variation during spoken-word recognition.

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