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Keywords:

  • Speech perception;
  • Lexical tone;
  • Mandarin Chinese;
  • Phonological abstraction;
  • Episodic models

Abstract

There is a growing consensus that the mental lexicon contains both abstract and word-specific acoustic information. To investigate their relative importance for word recognition, we tested to what extent perceptual learning is word specific or generalizable to other words. In an exposure phase, participants were divided into two groups; each group was semantically biased to interpret an ambiguous Mandarin tone contour as either tone1 or tone2. In a subsequent test phase, the perception of ambiguous contours was dependent on the exposure phase: Participants who heard ambiguous contours as tone1 during exposure were more likely to perceive ambiguous contours as tone1 than participants who heard ambiguous contours as tone2 during exposure. This learning effect was only slightly larger for previously encountered than for not previously encountered words. The results speak for an architecture with prelexical analysis of phonological categories to achieve both lexical access and episodic storage of exemplars.