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Department of Linguistics

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WPP, No.111: Syllabification, Sonority, and Spoken Word Segmentation: Evidence from Word-Spotting


Since Cutler and Norris (1986), it has been held that the role of the syllable in on-line word segmentation is fundamentally language specific; syllabification-based strategies are said to be available in syllable-timed languages, but unavailable in languages that are stressed-timed. The present study used word-spotting and found listeners in English (a prototypically stress-timed language) to be highly sensitive to sonority patterns. In particular, it was found that listeners more readily parsed sonorant consonants as codas, making vowel-initial target words like “absent” easier to spot in nonsense strings like “jeemabsent” compared to “jeebabsent”. This pattern mirrors both English-speaking listeners’ off-line syllabification preferences, and also the on-line behavior of listeners of syllable-timed languages (e.g., French), suggesting the syllable-based segmentation routine is not language specific.

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