Word length, proportion of overlap, and phonological competition in spoken word recognition

AbstractWe examined how phonological competition effects in spoken word recognition change with word length. Cohort effects (competition between words that overlap at onset) are strong and easily replicated. Rhyme effects (competition between words that mismatch at onset) are weaker, emerge later and are more difficult to replicate. Our experiment examined cohort and rhyme competition using monosyllabic vs. bisyllabic words. Degree of competition was predicted by proportion of phonological overlap. Longer rhymes, with greater overlap in both number and proportion of shared phonemes, compete more strongly (e.g., kettle-medal vs. cat-mat). In contrast, long and short cohort pairs constrained to have constant (2-phoneme) overlap vary in proportion of overlap. Longer cohort pairs (e.g., camera-candle) have lower proportion of overlap than shorter cohorts (e.g., cat-can) and compete more weakly. This finding has methodological implications but also theoretical implications: degree of competition is conditioned on proportion of overlap. TRACE simulations help explicate these results.

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