Computational Perception Group

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The processing and perception of size information in speech sounds

D. R. R. Smith and R. D. Patterson and R. E. Turner and H. Kawahara and T. Irino

Published in: Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

There is information in speech sounds about the length of the vocal tract; specifically, as a child grows, the resonators in the vocal tract grow and the formant frequencies of the vowels decrease. It has been hypothesized that the auditory system applies a scale transform to all sounds to segregate size information from resonator shape information, and thereby enhance both size perception and speech recognition [Irino and Patterson, Speech Commun. 36 (2002)]. This paper describes size discrimination experiments and vowel recognition experiments designed to provide evidence for an auditory scaling mechanism. Vowels were scaled to represent people with vocal tracts much longer and shorter than normal, and with pitches much higher and lower than normal. The results of the discrimination experiments show that listeners can make fine judgments about the relative size of speakers, and they can do so for vowels scaled well beyond the normal range. Similarly, the recognition experiments show good performance for vowels in the normal range, and for vowels scaled well beyond the normal range of experience. Together, the experiments support the hypothesis that the auditory system automatically normalizes for the size information in communication sounds.

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