Discriminability and Perceptual Weighting of Some Acoustic Cues to Speech Perception by 3-Year-Olds Studies of children’s speech perception have shown that young children process speech signals differently than adults. Specifically, the relative contributions made by various acoustic parameters to some linguistic decisions seem to differ for children and adults. Such findings have led to the hypothesis that there is a developmental shift in ... Research Article
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Research Article  |   April 01, 1996
Discriminability and Perceptual Weighting of Some Acoustic Cues to Speech Perception by 3-Year-Olds
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Susan Nittrouer
    Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, NE
  • Contact author: Susan Nittrouer, PhD, Boys Town National Research Hospital, 555 North 30th Street, Omaha, NE 68131.
    Contact author: Susan Nittrouer, PhD, Boys Town National Research Hospital, 555 North 30th Street, Omaha, NE 68131.×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Acoustics / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Hearing / Research Articles
Research Article   |   April 01, 1996
Discriminability and Perceptual Weighting of Some Acoustic Cues to Speech Perception by 3-Year-Olds
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, April 1996, Vol. 39, 278-297. doi:10.1044/jshr.3902.278
History: Received March 8, 1995 , Accepted December 20, 1995
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, April 1996, Vol. 39, 278-297. doi:10.1044/jshr.3902.278
History: Received March 8, 1995; Accepted December 20, 1995

Studies of children’s speech perception have shown that young children process speech signals differently than adults. Specifically, the relative contributions made by various acoustic parameters to some linguistic decisions seem to differ for children and adults. Such findings have led to the hypothesis that there is a developmental shift in the perceptual weighting of acoustic parameters that results from experience with a native language (i.e., the Developmental Weighting Shift). This developmental shift eventually leads the child to adopt the optimal perceptual weighting strategy for the native language being learned (i.e., one that allows the listener to make accurate decisions about the phonemic structure of his or her native language). Although this proposal has intuitive appeal, there is at least one serious challenge that can be leveled against it: Perhaps age-related differences inspeech perception can more appropriately be explained by age-related differences in basic auditory-processing abilities. That is, perhaps children are not as sensitive as adults to subtle differences in acoustic structure and so make linguistic decisions based on the acoustic information that is most perceptually salient. The present study tested this hypothesis for the acoustic cues relevant to fricative identity in fricative-vowel syllables. Results indicated that 3-year-olds were not as sensitive to changes in these acoustic cues as adults are, but that these age-related differences in auditory sensitivity could not entirely account for age-related differences in perceptual weighting strategies.

Acknowledgments
This work was supported by NIH Grant #DC00633 to the author. Carol Manning and Gina Meyer participated in data collection. The suggestions and comments of Carol A. Fowler, Michael Studdert-Kennedy, D. H. Whalen, Joanne L. Miller, and Walt Jesteadt were helpful in the preparation of this manuscript.
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