No AccessJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing ResearchResearch Article1 Feb 2007

Children’s Weighting Strategies for Word-Final Stop Voicing Are Not Explained by Auditory Sensitivities


    It has been reported that children and adults weight differently the various acoustic properties of the speech signal that support phonetic decisions. This finding is generally attributed to the fact that the amount of weight assigned to various acoustic properties by adults varies across languages, and that children have not yet discovered the mature weighting strategies of their own native languages. But an alternative explanation exists: Perhaps children’s auditory sensitivities for some acoustic properties of speech are poorer than those of adults, and children cannot categorize stimuli based on properties to which they are not keenly sensitive. The purpose of the current study was to test that hypothesis.


    Edited-natural, synthetic-formant, and sine wave stimuli were all used, and all were modeled after words with voiced and voiceless final stops. Adults and children (5 and 7 years of age) listened to pairs of stimuli in 5 conditions: 2 involving a temporal property (1 with speech and 1 with nonspeech stimuli) and 3 involving a spectral property (1 with speech and 2 with nonspeech stimuli). An AX discrimination task was used in which a standard stimulus (A) was compared with all other stimuli (X) equal numbers of times (method of constant stimuli).


    Adults and children had similar difference thresholds (i.e., 50% point on the discrimination function) for 2 of the 3 sets of nonspeech stimuli (1 temporal and 1 spectral), but children’s thresholds were greater for both sets of speech stimuli.


    Results are interpreted as evidence that children’s auditory sensitivities are adequate to support weighting strategies similar to those of adults, and so observed differences between children and adults in speech perception cannot be explained by differences in auditory perception. Furthermore, it is concluded that listeners bring expectations to the listening task about the nature of the signals they are hearing based on their experiences with those signals.


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