This project continues our investigation of the production and perception of phonological sequences. The project's guiding assumption is that the phonological processing system is constantly changing. It adapts to recent experience, while continuing to reflect the accumulated experience of a lifetime of speaking and listening. The proposed research seeks to understand the adaptability of the phonological processing system, with an emphasis on the malleability of the system's use of general phonological patterns, such as phonotactic constraints. It is well known that speech errors or slips of the tongue exhibit the phonotactic regularity effect: Errors rarely create combinations of sounds that are illegal in the language being spoken. For example, an English speaker might mispronounce """"""""nun"""""""" as """"""""nung"""""""", but not """"""""ngung"""""""" because that violates the constraint of English that """"""""ng"""""""" can never begin a syllable. We created a laboratory analog to this effect and used it to demonstrate learning. Experimental subjects recited strings of syllables in which consonants were artificially restricted to particular positions in syllables;for example, /f/ always occurred as a syllable onset. As subjects experienced these syllables, their slips became strongly sensitive to the distributions of the consonants. For example, nearly every misplacement of /f/ obeyed the rule that /f/ is an onset for this experiment. These data suggest that subjects implicitly learned the sound distributions, and this learning affected their productions. We demonstrated the same effect in perception. Subjects listened to syllables with consonant-position restrictions;in a later speeded repetition task, new syllables that were consistent with the phonotactics of the experiment were repeated more rapidly than syllables that were inconsistent. The proposed research uses these techniques to investigate learning mechanisms in the phonological processing system. The studies manipulate the phonological patterns to be acquired and make direct comparisons between production and perception and between learning by adults and infants. These experiments are informed by psychological theories of learning and linguistic theories of representation, and the obtained data will be used to constrain development of computational models of implicit learning in the phonological processing system. The research will yield a new understanding of how the processing system responds to experience, which ultimately will contribute to the treatment of language disorders and to language pedagogy.

Public Health Relevance

The project studies how implicit learning, that is, learning by doing, shapes the way that we perceive and produce speech. As such, the proposed research will contribute to the understanding and, ultimately, the remediation of developmental and acquired speech, language, and reading pathologies. Therapies for language pathology often assume that learning is taking place, but current methods are not based on precise theories of learning mechanisms. Consequently, an analysis of such mechanisms in a specific domain -- here, phonotactic learning -- has the potential to make a notable contribution to the development of therapeutic interventions. If we discover how the speech processing systems of infants, older children, and adults change naturally with experience, we can use this knowledge to engineer changes that can benefit individuals of all ages who suffer from linguistic and reading disorders.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
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Mccardle, Peggy D
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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
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Bernard, Amélie (2017) Novel phonotactic learning: Tracking syllable-position and co-occurrence constraints. J Mem Lang 96:138-154
Kittredge, Audrey K; Dell, Gary S (2016) Learning to speak by listening: Transfer of phonotactics from perception to production. J Mem Lang 89:8-22
Warker, Jill A; Dell, Gary S (2015) New phonotactic constraints learned implicitly by producing syllable strings generalize to the production of new syllables. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 41:1902-10
Bernard, Amélie (2015) An onset is an onset: Evidence from abstraction of newly-learned phonotactic constraints. J Mem Lang 78:18-32
Warker, Jill A (2013) Investigating the retention and time course of phonotactic constraint learning from production experience. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 39:96-109
Dell, Gary S; Schwartz, Myrna F; Nozari, Nazbanou et al. (2013) Voxel-based lesion-parameter mapping: Identifying the neural correlates of a computational model of word production. Cognition 128:380-96
Toscano, Joseph C; Anderson, Nathaniel D; McMurray, Bob (2013) Reconsidering the role of temporal order in spoken word recognition. Psychon Bull Rev 20:981-7
Nozari, Nazbanou; Dell, Gary S (2012) Feature migration in time: reflection of selective attention on speech errors. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 38:1084-90
Oppenheim, Gary M (2012) The case for subphonemic attenuation in inner speech: comment on Corley, Brocklehurst, and Moat (2011). J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 38:502-12
Chambers, Kyle E; Onishi, Kristine H; Fisher, Cynthia (2011) Representations for phonotactic learning in infancy. Lang Learn Dev 7:287-308

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