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Perceptual Compensation Is Correlated with Individuals' “Autistic” Traits: Implications for Models of Sound Change

Authors
Journal
PLoS ONE
1932-6203
Publisher
Public Library of Science
Publication Date
Volume
5
Issue
8
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011950
Keywords
  • Research Article
  • Neuroscience
  • Neuroscience/Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neuroscience/Sensory Systems
  • Neuroscience/Psychology
  • Neuroscience/Experimental Psychology
Disciplines
  • Linguistics

Abstract

Variation is a ubiquitous feature of speech. Listeners must take into account context-induced variation to recover the interlocutor's intended message. When listeners fail to normalize for context-induced variation properly, deviant percepts become seeds for new perceptual and production norms. In question is how deviant percepts accumulate in a systematic fashion to give rise to sound change (i.e., new pronunciation norms) within a given speech community. The present study investigated subjects' classification of /s/ and // before /a/ or /u/ spoken by a male or a female voice. Building on modern cognitive theories of autism-spectrum condition, which see variation in autism-spectrum condition in terms of individual differences in cognitive processing style, we established a significant correlation between individuals' normalization for phonetic context (i.e., whether the following vowel is /a/ or /u/) and talker voice variation (i.e., whether the talker is male or female) in speech and their “autistic” traits, as measured by the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). In particular, our mixed-effect logistic regression models show that women with low AQ (i.e., the least “autistic”) do not normalize for phonetic coarticulation as much as men and high AQ women. This study provides first direct evidence that variability in human's ability to compensate for context-induced variations in speech perceptually is governed by the individual's sex and cognitive processing style. These findings lend support to the hypothesis that the systematic infusion of new linguistic variants (i.e., the deviant percepts) originate from a sub-segment of the speech community that consistently under-compensates for contextual variation in speech.

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