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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: Maths
  • Word count: 2307

Psychology of Language - The Nittrouer Study.

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Monique Fontes

Psychology of Language


Part II: Essay Questions

1.)The Nittrouer Study:

An early experiment, hypothesizing infant speech perception, found that infants could classify two stop-vowel syllables that varied in acoustic dimension.  In other words, the results of the Eimas study suggested that, even before language acquisition, humans could differentiate between different categories of phonemes.  Further evidence showed that infants could discriminate virtually all the world’s phonetic differences.  For example, Aslin’s Universal Theory proposes that all infants are born with a “universal set” of phonetic boundaries and through experience with one’s native language certain categories are maintained, while others are dissolved.  With these theories, comes the implication that language perception is innate; however, such concepts ignore existing contradictory evidence.  Susan Nittrouer found such results which, consequentially, compelled her to question the long-standing notion of innate phonetic boundaries

        Susan Nittrouer intended to test the weighing strategies used by infants for the various acoustic properties that define linguistic categories.  However, her results showed that infants not only lacked weighing strategies, but also lacked reliability in discriminating between phonetic categories.  She admits that her findings coincide with those that report success rates in infants.  However, she claims that such results provide no backing for the innateness of all phonetic boundaries.

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3.)   Ohala’s Support for the Importance of Acoustic-auditory Properties:

The constituents of speech perception have been debated throughout the history of psycholinguistics.  Many argue that articulation provides the basis for comprehending speech.  For example, the motor theory proposes that we perceive speech by first identifying the intended phonetic gestures or articulations that produce them.  In other words, to decode speech signals one must compare the presumed articulation to a preexisting articulatory model.  If the models match, then the signal is recognized; models can still correspond, despite differences in prosodic factors such as stress, intonation, and rate, thus solving the problem of invariance.  Also, the direct realist theory of speech perception asserts that articulations are perceived directly and acoustic signals only function as a means of carrying such gestures.  However, Ohala opposes both, the motor and direct realist theories and claims that speech perception does not require recovering the articulations of the speaker; instead, he hypothesizes that the primary units are acoustic.  In support of his view, Ohala presents phonological data, infant and nonhuman abilities to mimic human speech without knowledge of what vocal tracts produce such sounds, and the capacity for humans to differentiate between nonspeech sounds.  

Signaling systems, such as speech, try to maximize the physical differences between distinct messages.

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In conjunction to the above effects, Coltheart also studied the effects of position of irregularity on naming latency and used his findings as further support for his dual-route model of serial processing in reading aloud.  He found that there was a decline in regularity effect due to the positioning of the irregularity.  Meaning, the later in the word the irregularity occured, the faster his subjects were at processing it.  The activation we receive prior to irregularity is greatest when the irregularity is placed at the end of the word; often, the activation generated is enough for us to produce a pronunciation.  If the irregularity occurs at the beginning of the word we meet instant inhibition, making it more difficult to recognize and pronounce the word.  

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