In spontaneous speech, words may be realised shorter than in formal speech (e.g., English yesterday may be pronounced like [jɛʃeɩ]). Previous research has shown that context is required to understand highly reduced pronunciation variants. We investigated the extent to which listeners can predict low predictability reduced words on the basis of the semantic/syntactic and acoustic cues in their context. In four experiments, participants were presented with either the preceding context or the preceding and following context of reduced words, and either heard these fragments of conversational speech, or read their orthographic transcriptions. Participants were asked to predict the missing reduced word on the basis of the context alone, choosing from four plausible options. Participants made use of acoustic cues in the context, although casual speech typically has a high speech rate, and acoustic cues are much more unclear than in careful speech. Moreover, they relied on semantic/syntactic cues. Whenever there was a conflict between acoustic and semantic/syntactic contextual cues, measured as the word's probability given the surrounding words, listeners relied more heavily on acoustic cues. Further, context appeared generally insufficient to predict the reduced words, underpinning the significance of the acoustic characteristics of the reduced words themselves.
© by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston