Compensation for coarticulation: Disentangling auditory and gestural theories of perception of coarticulatory effects in speech

Navin Viswanathan, James S. Magnuson, Carol A. Fowler

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48 Scopus citations


According to one approach to speech perception, listeners perceive speech by applying general pattern matching mechanisms to the acoustic signal (e.g., Diehl, Lotto, & Holt, 2004). An alternative is that listeners perceive the phonetic gestures that structured the acoustic signal (e.g., Fowler, 1986). The two accounts have offered different explanations for the phenomenon of compensation for coarticulation (CfC). An example of CfC is that if a speaker produces a gesture with a front place of articulation, it may be pulled slightly backwards if it follows a back place of articulation, and listeners' category boundaries shift (compensate) accordingly. The gestural account appeals to direct attunement to coarticulation to explain CfC, whereas the auditory account explains it by spectral contrast. In previous studies, spectral contrast and gestural consequences of coarticulation have been correlated, such that both accounts made identical predictions. We identify a liquid context in Tamil that disentangles contrast and coarticulation, such that the two accounts make different predictions. In a standard CfC task in Experiment 1, gestural coarticulation rather than spectral contrast determined the direction of CfC. Experiments 2, 3, and 4 demonstrated that tone analogues of the speech precursors failed to produce the same effects observed in Experiment 1, suggesting that simple spectral contrast cannot account for the findings of Experiment 1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1005-1015
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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