Phonetic targets as the link between speech production and speech perception

Yi Xu and Emily Wang

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 108, Pt. 2, pp. 2531-2532. 2000

We argue in this paper that the coherence between speech perception and production, which the motor theory maintains, lies in the common knowledge about speech production shared by the speaker and the listener. More specifically, we propose that abstract phonemic units are associated with phonetic targets that are articulatorily operable. These targets, however, are usually not fully achieved in speech production. Rather, they are often only approximated by different degrees under the limitation of various articulatory constraints. The process of speech production, therefore, is one in which various phonetic targets are being continuously approximated. As evidence, we will demonstrate with recent acoustic data how lexical tones in Mandarin are implemented through continuous approximation under specific articulatory constraints, how these constraints bring about extensive variations in the F0 contours, and how, despite the variations, tonal targets maintain their integrity in connected speech. We will then further argue that listeners, being also speakers themselves, should be able to discover the intended targets by noting the consistency the speaker manages to achieve despite the articulatory constraints. In other words, listeners hear not just what the speakers do, but more importantly, what they intend to do: We listen to hear what is being said.

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