Exploring the effects of phonetic overlap and background noise on incremental processing in children
Adviser: Tina Grieco-Calub
In everyday conversation, individuals actively process speech in order to comprehend and respond in real-time. As a word unfolds, listeners activate possible lexical candidates and actively determine the target word as they receive more information, a process referred to as incremental processing. This process requires knowledge of one’s native spoken language and the ability to recognize individual phonemes. While this process allows for rapid word recognition, it can also result in phonological competition among multiple candidate words that have phonetic overlap. This has been shown for words that share the same initial phonemes (e.g., candle and candy). However, other types of phonetic overlap, such as rhyme (e.g., candle and sandal), are not well explored. The present study implemented an eye-tracking paradigm in school-age children to quantify incremental language processing of words that rhyme with or share offset phonetic information with other words. The experimental method enabled us to measure the extent to which children looked at target images (e.g., candle) as well as images that served as rhyme competitors (e.g., sandal), shared offset competitors (e.g., poodle), and unrelated distractors (e.g, diaper) as the target speech unfolded. Children completed the task in quiet as well as in the presence of broadband background noise, which disrupts the acoustic representation of the speech input. The data suggest that phonetic overlap does impact incremental processing in quiet. However, the background noise condition slows processing speed to a certain extent for each of the three competitor image condition.