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Correlates of linguistic rhythm in the speech signal

By Franck Ramus, Marina Nespor and Jacques Mehler


Spoken languages have been classified by linguists according to their rhythmic properties, and psycholinguists have relied on this classification to account for infantsÂ’ capacity to discriminate languages. Although researchers have measured many speech signal properties, they have failed to identify reliable acoustic characteristics for language classes. This paper presents instrumental measurements based on a consonant/vowel segmentation for eight languages. The measurements suggest that intuitive rhythm types reflect specific phonological properties, which in turn are signaled by the acoustic/phonetic properties of speech. The data support the notion of rhythm classes and also allow the simulation of infant language discrimination, consistent with the hypothesis that newborns rely on a coarse segmentation of speech. A hypothesis is proposed regarding the role of rhythm perception in language acquisition

Topics: Developmental Psychology, Learnability, Phonology, Psycholinguistics
Publisher: Elsevier Science
Year: 1999
OAI identifier:

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  2. (1999). Stimuli were low-pass filtered at 400 Hz. b Stimuli were resynthesized in such a manner as to preserve only broad phonotactics and prosody (see Ramus & Mehler,

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