Auditory Discontinuities Interact with Categorization: Implications for Speech Perception
AbstractBehavioral experiments with infants, adults, and nonhuman animals converge with neurophysiological findings to suggest that there is a discontinuity in auditory processing of stimulus components differing in onset time by about 20 ms. This discontinuity has been implicated as a basis for boundaries between speech categories distinguished by voice onset time (VOT). Here, it is investigated how this discontinuity interacts with the learning of novel perceptual categories. Adult listeners were trained to categorize nonspeech stimuli that mimicked certain temporal properties of VOT stimuli. One group of listeners learned categories with a boundary coincident with the perceptual discontinuity. Another group learned categories defined such that the perceptual discontinuity fell within a category. Listeners in the latter group required significantly more experience to reach criterion categorization performance. Evidence of interactions between the perceptual discontinuity and the learned categories extended to generalization tests as well. It has been hypothesized that languages make use of perceptual discontinuities to promote distinctiveness among sounds within a language inventory. The present data suggest that discontinuities interact with category learning. As such, ‘‘learnability’’ may play a predictive role in selection of language sound inventories.