Sonority as a Phonological Cue in Early Perception of Written Syllables in French

Frontiers in Psychology 11 (2020)
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Abstract

Many studies focused on the letter and sound co-occurrences to account for the well-documented syllable-based effects in French in visual (pseudo)word processing. Although these language-specific statistical properties are crucial, recent data suggest that studies which go all-in on phonological and orthographic regularities may be misguided in interpreting how – and why – readers locate syllable boundaries and segment clusters. Indeed, syllable-based effects could depend on more abstract, universal phonological constraints that rule and govern how letter and sound occur and co-occur, and readers could be sensitive to sonority – a universal phonological element – for processing (pseudo)words. Here, we investigate whether French adult skilled readers rely on universal phonological sonority-related markedness continuum across the syllable boundaries for segmentation (e.g., from marked, illegal intervocalic clusters /zl/ to unmarked, legal intervocalic clusters /lz/). To address this question, we ran two tasks with 128 French adult skilled readers using two versions of the illusory conjunction paradigm (Task 1 without white noise; Task 2 with white noise). Our results show that syllable location and segmentation in reading is early and automatically modulated by phonological sonority-related markedness in the absence or quasi-absence of statistical information, and does not require acoustic-phonetic information. We discuss our results towards the overlooked role of phonological universals and the over-trusted role of statistical information during reading processes.

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