Effects of Syntactic Expectations on Speech Segmentation

S.L. Mattys, J.F. Melhorn, L. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although the effect of acoustic cues on speech segmentation has been extensively investigated, the role of higher order information (e.g., syntax) has received less attention. Here, the authors examined whether syntactic expectations based on subject-verb agreement have an effect on segmentation and whether they do so despite conflicting acoustic cues. Although participants detected target words faster in phrases containing adequate acoustic cues ("spins" in take spins and "pins" in takes pins), this acoustic effect was suppressed when the phrases were appended to a plural context (those women take spins/*takes pins [with the asterisk indicating a syntactically unacceptable parse]). The syntactically congruent target ("spins") was detected faster regardless of the acoustics. However, a singular context (that woman *take spins/takes pins) had no effect on segmentation, and the results resembled those of the neutral phrases. Subsequent experiments showed that the discrepancy was due to the relative time course of syntactic expectations and acoustics cues. Taken together, the data suggest that syntactic knowledge can facilitate segmentation but that its effect is substantially attenuated if conflicting acoustic cues are encountered before full realization of the syntactic constraint.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)960-977
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2007

Cite this