The integration of frequency and phonetic variation in the perception of accented speech


How listeners understand spoken words despite massive variation in the speech signal is a central issue for linguistic theory. A recent focus on lexical frequency and specificity has proved fruitful in accounting for this phenomenon. Speech perception, though, is a multi-faceted process and likely incorporates a number of mechanisms to map a variable signal to meaning. We examine a well-established language use factor — lexical frequency — and how this factor is integrated with phonetic variability during the perception of accented speech. We show that an integrated perspective highlights a low-level perceptual mechanism that accounts for the perception of accented speech absent native contrasts, while shedding light on the use of interactive language factors in the perception of spoken words.

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