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Recognition of syntactic structure based on prosodic or segmental cues Wiley, Michelle Dawn


The purpose of this study was to determine if a listener is able to recognize sentential syntactic type on the basis of prosodic or segmental cues when the availability of the other type of cue is severely reduced. Through a process known as "spectral inversion" (Blesser, 1972), prosodic cues (temporal and waveform amplitude cues) were maintained, while segmental cues were reduced. Two experiments were conducted, Experiments 1 and 2, in which participants listened to digitized recordings. In Experiment 1, it was demonstrated that when speech was spectrally inverted, listeners were able to use syllabicity to some extent to identify words or word combinations from a closed-set, but that overall, word recognition ability was severely reduced. In the main experiment, Experiment 2, fifteen participants (21 to 29 years) listened to three lists of sentences, each containing five exemplars of nine different syntactic types of sentences that ranged in complexity. Each list was presented in a separate condition. Condition 1 consisted of non-altered sentences, condition 2 of spectrally-inverted sentences, and condition 3 of concatenated sentences with reduced prosodic cues. Participants indicated the type heard using a closed-set, forced-choice, nine-alternative response paradigm. Participants had near-perfect accuracy in recognizing the syntactic type in conditions 1 and 3, but were less accurate in condition 2. Examination of response errors, however, indicated that poor performance in condition 2 was primarily attributable to decreased ability to recognize only two of the syntactic types, and did not necessarily reflect overall poorer performance. Additionally, it was shown by the error patterns in condition 2, that the number of syllables in the sentence served as an important cue. It was concluded that recognition of syntactic type is possible with prosodic cues (temporal and waveform amplitude cues) even when segmental cues are severely reduced.

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