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Psychology 2134A/B Lecture Notes - Voice-Onset Time, Phonotactics, Categorical Perception

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Marc Joanisse

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Psych of Language
Lec Sept 27
Voice onset time
Voicing in stops refers to whether the vocal chords are vibrating or not when you
produce that stop
Voiceless stop has no vibration
Bear vs. pear
Bear has a short VOT (relates to a voiced stop consonant)
Pear has a long VOT (relates to a voiceless stop consonant)
Measurable with respect to what the physical properties of a sound are
Can present people with sounds of different VOTs and see how people perceive
them (long VOTs are voiceless and short VOTs are voiced)
An interesting thing happens between 20ms VOT and 30ms VOT, people start
perceiving bear as pear
Categorical perception
Tape recordings and manipulating them and playing different lengths of VOT and
asking people to distinguish between Da and Ta
People were consistent in responses, between 0-20 ms as voiced and from 30-50ms
as voiceless
People were categorical in their perceptions (definitely one category or definitely
the other, not ambiguous)
Almost like there is an imaginary boundary in our heads of voiced or voiceless
People cant distinguish between 0-10 or 10-20
But the 20-30 pair people can distinguish: this is where the boundary lies
Cant distinguish between 30-40 or 40-50
Bad at discriminating things in the same category, good at distinguishing between
Whats going on?
People don’t hear sounds as being halfway in between, hear these changes as all or
Very robust effect, we as humans categorically perceive phoneme differences
Important because when we hear little phoneme differences that don’t really
matter, we ignore them. Robust because it occurs across a multitude of languages
and for more than just VOT (glides and whatnot as well)
Suggested that people use a specific way for perceiving speech
Also suggests that this might be something that is built into our language processor
in our brain to make language processing easier, is this learned or innate (born
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