Domain-General Mechanisms for Speech Segmentation: The Role of Duration Information in Language Learning

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Abstract

Speech segmentation is supported by multiple sources of information that may either inform language processing specifically, or serve learning more broadly. The Iambic/Trochaic Law (ITL), where increased duration indicates the end of a group and increased emphasis indicates the beginning of a group, has been proposed as a domain-general mechanism that also applies to language. However, language background has been suggested to modulate use of the ITL, meaning that these perceptual grouping preferences may instead be a consequence of language exposure. To distinguish between these accounts, we exposed native-English and native-Japanese listeners to sequences of speech (Experiment 1) and nonspeech stimuli (Experiment 2), and examined segmentation using a 2AFC task. Duration was manipulated over 3 conditions: sequences contained either an initial-item duration increase, or a final-item duration increase, or items of uniform duration. In Experiment 1, language background did not affect the use of duration as a cue for segmenting speech in a structured artificial language. In Experiment 2, the same results were found for grouping structured sequences of visual shapes. The results are consistent with proposals that duration information draws upon a domain-general mechanism that can apply to the special case of language acquisition.

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