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Individual differences in simultaneous perceptual compensation for coarticulatory and lexical cues

Wei Lai, Lacey Wade and Meredith Tamminga
From the journal Linguistics Vanguard


Idiosyncratic perceptual compensation behaviors are considered to have a bearing on the perceptual foundation of sound change. We investigate how compensation processes driven by lexical and coarticulatory contexts simultaneously affect listeners’ perception of a single segment and the individual differences in the compensation patterns. Sibilants on an /s-ʃ/ continuum were embedded into four lexical frames that differed in whether the lexical context favored /s/ or /ʃ/ perceptually and whether the vocalic context favored /s/ or not. Forty-two participants took a lexical decision task to decide whether each stimulus was a word or not. They also completed the autism-spectrum quotient questionnaire. The aggregate results of the lexical decision task show coexistence of lexically induced and coarticulatorily induced perceptual shifts in parallel. A negative correlation was found between the two kinds of perceptual shifts for individual listeners in lexical decisions, lending support to a potential trade-off between compensation magnitudes on different levels of cue integration.

Corresponding author: Wei Lai, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA, E-mail:

Funding source: Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences

Award Identifier / Grant number: NSF #1627972


This paper is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1627972, “Cognitive characteristics of the leaders of language change”. The ideas in this paper have been improved by feedback from audiences at the 5th Workshop of Sound Change. Special thanks go to Pam Beddor and Alan Yu for their helpful feedback.

  1. Research funding: This work was supported by the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (grant number NSF #1627972).


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Received: 2020-07-24
Accepted: 2021-06-15
Published Online: 2022-05-05

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