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(Accepted and In Press at Psychological Science)
What happens to the acoustic signal after it enters the mind of a listener? Previous work demonstrates that listeners maintain intermediate representations over time. However, the internal structure of such representations—be they the acoustic-phonetic signal or more general information about the probability of possible categories—remains underspecified. We present two experiments using a novel speaker adaptation paradigm aimed at uncovering the format of speech representations. We exposed adult listeners (N=297) to a speaker whose utterances contained acoustically ambiguous information concerning phones/words and manipulated the temporal availability of disambiguating cues via visually presented text (i.e., presentation before or after each utterance). Results from a traditional phoneme categorization task showed that listeners adapt to a modified acoustic distribution when disambiguating text is provided before the audio, but not after. Results support the position that speech representations consist of activation over categories and are inconsistent with direct maintenance of the acoustic-phonetic signal.
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