Neighboring Spectral Content Influences Vowel Identification

Four experiments explored the relative contributions of spectral content and phonetic labeling in effects of context on vowel perception. Two 10-step series of CVC syllables ([bVb] and [dVd]) varying acoustically in F2 midpoint frequency and varying perceptually in vowel height from [^] to [ε] were synthesized. In a forced-choice identification task, listeners more often labeled vowels as [^] in [dVd] context than in [bVb] context. To examine whether spectral content predicts this effect, nonspeech–speech hybrid series were created by appending 70-ms sine-wave glides following the trajectory of CVC F2’s to 60-ms members of a steady-state vowel series varying in F2 frequency. In addition, a second hybrid series was created by appending constant-frequency sine-wave tones equivalent in frequency to CVC F2 onset/offset frequencies. Vowels flanked by frequencymodulated glides or steady-state tones modeling [dVd] were more often labeled as [^] than were the same vowels surrounded by nonspeech modeling [bVb]. These results suggest that spectral content is important in understanding vowel context effects. A final experiment tested whether spectral content can modulate vowel perception when phonetic labeling remains intact. Voiceless consonants, with lower-amplitude more-diffuse spectra, were found to exert less of an influence on vowel perception than do their voiced counterparts. The data are discussed in terms of a general perceptual account of context effects in speech perception.