Robust Lexically Mediated Compensation for Coarticulation: Christmash Time Is Here Again

Cognitive Science 45 (4):e12962 (2021)
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A long-standing question in cognitive science is how high-level knowledge is integrated with sensory input. For example, listeners can leverage lexical knowledge to interpret an ambiguous speech sound, but do such effects reflect direct top-down influences on perception or merely postperceptual biases? A critical test case in the domain of spoken word recognition is lexically mediated compensation for coarticulation (LCfC). Previous LCfC studies have shown that a lexically restored context phoneme (e.g., /s/ in Christma#) can alter the perceived place of articulation of a subsequent target phoneme (e.g., the initial phoneme of a stimulus from a tapes-capes continuum), consistent with the influence of an unambiguous context phoneme in the same position. Because this phoneme-to-phoneme compensation for coarticulation is considered sublexical, scientists agree that evidence for LCfC would constitute strong support for top–down interaction. However, results from previous LCfC studies have been inconsistent, and positive effects have often been small. Here, we conducted extensive piloting of stimuli prior to testing for LCfC. Specifically, we ensured that context items elicited robust phoneme restoration (e.g., that the final phoneme of Christma# was reliably identified as /s/) and that unambiguous context-final segments (e.g., a clear /s/ at the end of Christmas) drove reliable compensation for coarticulation for a subsequent target phoneme. We observed robust LCfC in a well-powered, preregistered experiment with these pretested items (N = 40) as well as in a direct replication study (N = 40). These results provide strong evidence in favor of computational models of spoken word recognition that include top–down feedback.



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