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Auditory-acoustic relations and effects on language inventory. Carrie Niziolek [carrien] 24.922 5 may 2004. Introduction. Quantal relations both acoustic-articulatory and auditory-acoustic . How does the peripheral auditory system shape responses to acoustics?

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Auditory-acoustic relations and effects on language inventory

Carrie Niziolek [carrien]


5 may 2004


  • Quantal relations both acoustic-articulatory and auditory-acoustic.

    • How does the peripheral auditory system shape responses to acoustics?

    • How does the central auditory system amplify learned contrasts?

Purpose of report:

  • to address feature constraints imposed by the auditory system

  • to address perceptibility as a tool for guiding feature constraints in a language

    • Does perceptibility (and, by extension, quantalness) affect survival in a language?

Categorical perception

  • A continuous change in a variable is perceived as instances of discrete categories

  • Between-cat discrimination is better than within-cat discrimination (enhanced category boundaries)

  • CP is induced through category learning, or merely acoustic exposure

Speech perception

  • Motor theory: phonemes are processed by special phonetic mechanisms of hearing (learned internal lang-production model)

  • Preverbal infants and nonverbal animals share categorical perception boundaries

  • What decoding processes do our auditory systems have in common?

Feature constraints

  • Auditory system needs 20 ms to perceive temporal ordering (less than 20 ms = one auditory event?)

Auditory-acoustic relations

  • Eimas et al. (1971) used a bilabial VOT continuum to show that English infants better discriminate across-boundary stimuli

  • Eilers et al. (1979) showed that Spanish infants also have greatest sensitivity across the English boundary

  • Evidence for an auditorily-determined boundary

    • Do more languages have an English-like boundary than not?

Non-speech aud-acoust relations

  • Non-linear acoustic to auditory mapping: natural auditory sensitivities

Use sawtooth waves to test perception: plucks or bows?

Non-speech aud-acoust relations

  • Non-linear acoustic to auditory mapping: natural auditory sensitivities

    • Large-target regions: small variations

    • Thresholds, regions of instability (~40ms)

Range effects

  • Input range affects perception: is boundary merely at midpoint of range?

Perceptibility in Turkish

  • Turkish [h] deletion

    • Occurs in contexts where lower perceptibility is predicted

  • Speech taking advantage of perceptual constraints

Optimizing language contrasts

  • Language evolution will tend to converge on maximally distinct phonemes

    • Maximize perceptual distance: vowel dispersion

    • Maximize ease of articulation: find a stable acoustic region that allows for a relatively imprecise gesture


  • Stevens K. On the quantal nature of speech. J. Phonetics (1989) 17, 3-45.

  • Harnad, S. Psychophysical and cognitive aspects of categorical perception: A critical overview, in Harnad, Stevan, Eds. Categorical Perception: The Groundwork of Cognition (1987), chapter 1, pages pp. 1-52. Cambridge University Press.

  • Howell, P. & Rosen, S. (1984) Natural auditory sensitivities as universal determiners of phonemic contrasts. Linguistics211: 205-235

  • Kuhl PK and Miller JD: Speech perception by the chinchilla. Science, 190: 69-72. 1975.

  • Mielke J. The interplay of speech perception and phonology: experimental evidence from Turkish. Phonetica 2003 Jul-Sep;60(3):208-29.

  • Gao E, Suga N. Experience-dependent corticofugal adjustment of midbrain frequency map in bat auditory system. Neurobiology 1998 Oct;95(21):12663-12670.

Neural measures of perception

  • Lateral posterior STG

    • Acoustic-phonetic processing: activation from words, pseudowords, and reversed speech

    • Not critical for discrimination of non-speech auditory stimuli (tones, noise)

    • Disputed: other human vocalizations? (coughing)

  • Anterior STG

  • Inferior frontal cortex

Organization of speech circuits

  • Model of functional circuits that are critical for speech perception

    • Functional subdivisions in left STG

      • Anterior STG

        • Posterior: phonological

        • Anterior: sentence processing

      • Posterior STG

        • Anterior: acoustic-phonetic

        • Posterior: phonological

        • Temporoparietal junction: lexical-semantic

Organization of speech circuits

  • Hierarchical organization

    • Acoustic-phonetic processing: local posterior network

    • Increasingly distributed networks as processing becomes more complex

  • Modular and distributed cortical circuits

Cortical perception

  • Acoustic-phonetic processes localized to the middle-posterior region of left STG

  • Increased cortical distribution for higher-level speech perception tasks

    • Dissociation implies functional subdivisions, hierarchical organization

Corticofugal pathways

  • i.e., how the cortex affects processing in lower auditory centers

  • Acoustic cues enhanced or suppressed

    • Positive feedback to subcortical neurons “matched” in tuning to an acoustic parameter

    • Lateral inhibition to “unmatched” neurons

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