5th European Conference on Speech Communication and Technology

Rhodes, Greece
September 22-25, 1997

Phonemes and Syllables in Speech Perception: Size of Attentional Focus in French

Christophe Pallier

Max-Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, EHESS-CNRS, Paris, France

A study by Pitt and Samuel (1990) found that English speakers could narrowly focus attention onto a precise phonemic position inside spoken words [1]. This led the authors to argue that the phoneme, rather than the syllable, is the primary unit of speech perception. Other evidence, obtained with a syllable detection paradigm, has been put forward to propose that the syllable is the unit of perception; yet, these experiments were ran with French speakers [2]. In the present study, we adapted Pitt & Samuel's phoneme detection experiment to French and found that French subjects behave exactly like English subjects: they too can focus attention on a precise phoneme. To explain both this result and the established sensitivity to the syllabic structure, we propose that the perceptual system automatically parses the speech signal into a syllabically-structured phonological representation.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Pallier, Christophe (1997): "Phonemes and syllables in speech perception: size of attentional focus in French", In EUROSPEECH-1997, 2159-2162.