Decoding perceptual vowel epenthesis: Experiments & Modelling

Adriana Guevara-Rukoz 1, 2
2 CoML - Apprentissage machine et développement cognitif
LSCP - Laboratoire de sciences cognitives et psycholinguistique, Inria de Paris
Abstract : Why do people of different linguistic background sometimes perceive the same acoustic signal differently? For instance, when hearing nonnative speech that does not conform to sound structures allowed in their native language, listeners may report hearing vowels that are not acoustically present. This phenomenon, known as perceptual vowel epenthesis, has been attested in various languages such as Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, and English. The quality of the epenthesized vowel varies between languages, but also within languages, given certain phonemic environments. How much of this process is guided by information directly accessible in the acoustic signal? What is the contribution of the native phonology? How are these two elements combined when computing the native percept? Two main families of theories have been proposed as explanations: two-step and one-step theories. The former advocate an initial parsing of the phonetic categories, followed by repairs by an abstract grammar (e.g., epenthesis), while one-step proposals posit that all acoustic, phonetic, and phonological factors are integrated simultaneously in a probabilistic manner, in order to find the optimal percept. In this dissertation, we use a combination of experimental and modelling approaches in order to evaluate whether perceptual vowel epenthesis is a two-step or one-step process. In particular, we investigate this by assessing the role of acoustic details in modulations of epenthetic vowel quality. In a first part, results from two behavioural experiments show that these modulations are influenced by acoustic cues as well as phonology; however, the former explain most of the variation in epenthetic vowel responses. Additionally, we present a one-step exemplar-based model of perception that is able to reproduce coarticulation effects observed in human data. These results constitute evidence for one-step models of nonnative speech perception. In a second part, we present an implementation of the one-step proposal in [Wilson and Davidson, 2013], using HMM-GMM (hidden Markov models with Gaussian mixture models) from the field of automatic speech recognition. These models present two separate components determining the acoustic and phonotactic matches between speech and possible transcriptions. We can thus tweak them independently in order to evaluate the relative influence of acoustic/phonetic and phonological factors in perceptual vowel epenthesis. We propose a novel way to simulate with these models the forced choice paradigm used to probe vowel epenthesis in human participants, using constrained language models during the speech decoding process. In a first set of studies, we use this method to test whether various ASR systems with ngram phonotactics as their language model better approximate human results than an ASR system with a null (i.e., no phonotactics) language model. Surprisingly, we find that this null model was the best predictor of human performance. In a sec1 ond set of studies, we evaluate whether effects traditionally attributed to phonology may be predictable solely from acoustic match. We find that, while promising, our models are only able to partially reproduce some effects observed in results from human experiments. Before attributing the source of these effects to phonology, it is necessary to test ASR systems with more performant acoustic models. We discuss future avenues for using enhanced models, and highlight the advantages of using a hybrid approach with behavioural experiments and computational modelling in order to elucidate the mechanisms underlying nonnative speech perception.
Keywords : Modelization
Document type :
Complete list of metadatas
Contributor : Emmanuel Dupoux <>
Submitted on : Friday, December 7, 2018 - 5:48:54 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, December 20, 2018 - 1:28:34 AM
Long-term archiving on : Friday, March 8, 2019 - 3:22:36 PM


Files produced by the author(s)


  • HAL Id : tel-01948548, version 1



Adriana Guevara-Rukoz. Decoding perceptual vowel epenthesis: Experiments & Modelling. Linguistics. Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), 2018. English. ⟨tel-01948548⟩



Record views


Files downloads