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Audiovisual Speech Perception and the McGurk Effect  

Lawrence D. Rosenblum

Research on visual and audiovisual speech information has profoundly influenced the fields of psycholinguistics, perception psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. Visual speech findings have provided some of most the important human demonstrations of our new conception of the perceptual brain as being supremely multimodal. This “multisensory revolution” has seen a tremendous growth in research on how the senses integrate, cross-facilitate, and share their experience with one another. The ubiquity and apparent automaticity of multisensory speech has led many theorists to propose that the speech brain is agnostic with regard to sense modality: it might not know or care from which modality speech information comes. Instead, the speech function may act to extract supramodal informational patterns that are common in form across energy streams. Alternatively, other theorists have argued that any common information existent across the modalities is minimal and rudimentary, so that multisensory perception largely depends on the observer’s associative experience between the streams. From this perspective, the auditory stream is typically considered primary for the speech brain, with visual speech simply appended to its processing. If the utility of multisensory speech is a consequence of a supramodal informational coherence, then cross-sensory “integration” may be primarily a consequence of the informational input itself. If true, then one would expect to see evidence for integration occurring early in the perceptual process, as well in a largely complete and automatic/impenetrable manner. Alternatively, if multisensory speech perception is based on associative experience between the modal streams, then no constraints on how completely or automatically the senses integrate are dictated. There is behavioral and neurophysiological research supporting both perspectives. Much of this research is based on testing the well-known McGurk effect, in which audiovisual speech information is thought to integrate to the extent that visual information can affect what listeners report hearing. However, there is now good reason to believe that the McGurk effect is not a valid test of multisensory integration. For example, there are clear cases in which responses indicate that the effect fails, while other measures suggest that integration is actually occurring. By mistakenly conflating the McGurk effect with speech integration itself, interpretations of the completeness and automaticity of multisensory may be incorrect. Future research should use more sensitive behavioral and neurophysiological measures of cross-modal influence to examine these issues.


Second Language Phonetics  

Ocke-Schwen Bohn

The study of second language phonetics is concerned with three broad and overlapping research areas: the characteristics of second language speech production and perception, the consequences of perceiving and producing nonnative speech sounds with a foreign accent, and the causes and factors that shape second language phonetics. Second language learners and bilinguals typically produce and perceive the sounds of a nonnative language in ways that are different from native speakers. These deviations from native norms can be attributed largely, but not exclusively, to the phonetic system of the native language. Non-nativelike speech perception and production may have both social consequences (e.g., stereotyping) and linguistic–communicative consequences (e.g., reduced intelligibility). Research on second language phonetics over the past ca. 30 years has resulted in a fairly good understanding of causes of nonnative speech production and perception, and these insights have to a large extent been driven by tests of the predictions of models of second language speech learning and of cross-language speech perception. It is generally accepted that the characteristics of second language speech are predominantly due to how second language learners map the sounds of the nonnative to the native language. This mapping cannot be entirely predicted from theoretical or acoustic comparisons of the sound systems of the languages involved, but has to be determined empirically through tests of perceptual assimilation. The most influential learner factors which shape how a second language is perceived and produced are the age of learning and the amount and quality of exposure to the second language. A very important and far-reaching finding from research on second language phonetics is that age effects are not due to neurological maturation which could result in the attrition of phonetic learning ability, but to the way phonetic categories develop as a function of experience with surrounding sound systems.


Direct Perception of Speech  

Carol A. Fowler

The theory of speech perception as direct derives from a general direct-realist account of perception. A realist stance on perception is that perceiving enables occupants of an ecological niche to know its component layouts, objects, animals, and events. “Direct” perception means that perceivers are in unmediated contact with their niche (mediated neither by internally generated representations of the environment nor by inferences made on the basis of fragmentary input to the perceptual systems). Direct perception is possible because energy arrays that have been causally structured by niche components and that are available to perceivers specify (i.e., stand in 1:1 relation to) components of the niche. Typically, perception is multi-modal; that is, perception of the environment depends on specifying information present in, or even spanning, multiple energy arrays. Applied to speech perception, the theory begins with the observation that speech perception involves the same perceptual systems that, in a direct-realist theory, enable direct perception of the environment. Most notably, the auditory system supports speech perception, but also the visual system, and sometimes other perceptual systems. Perception of language forms (consonants, vowels, word forms) can be direct if the forms lawfully cause specifying patterning in the energy arrays available to perceivers. In Articulatory Phonology, the primitive language forms (constituting consonants and vowels) are linguistically significant gestures of the vocal tract, which cause patterning in air and on the face. Descriptions are provided of informational patterning in acoustic and other energy arrays. Evidence is next reviewed that speech perceivers make use of acoustic and cross modal information about the phonetic gestures constituting consonants and vowels to perceive the gestures. Significant problems arise for the viability of a theory of direct perception of speech. One is the “inverse problem,” the difficulty of recovering vocal tract shapes or actions from acoustic input. Two other problems arise because speakers coarticulate when they speak. That is, they temporally overlap production of serially nearby consonants and vowels so that there are no discrete segments in the acoustic signal corresponding to the discrete consonants and vowels that talkers intend to convey (the “segmentation problem”), and there is massive context-sensitivity in acoustic (and optical and other modalities) patterning (the “invariance problem”). The present article suggests solutions to these problems. The article also reviews signatures of a direct mode of speech perception, including that perceivers use cross-modal speech information when it is available and exhibit various indications of perception-production linkages, such as rapid imitation and a disposition to converge in dialect with interlocutors. An underdeveloped domain within the theory concerns the very important role of longer- and shorter-term learning in speech perception. Infants develop language-specific modes of attention to acoustic speech signals (and optical information for speech), and adult listeners attune to novel dialects or foreign accents. Moreover, listeners make use of lexical knowledge and statistical properties of the language in speech perception. Some progress has been made in incorporating infant learning into a theory of direct perception of speech, but much less progress has been made in the other areas.