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Recognizing Spoken Words: The Neighborhood Activation Model

Luce, Paul A.; Pisoni, David B.


Objective: A fundamental problem in the study of human spoken word recognition concerns the structural relations among the sound patterns of words in memory and the effects these relations have on spoken word recognition. In the present investigation, computational and experimental methods were employed to address a number of fundamental issues related to the representation and structural organization of spoken words in the mental lexicon and to lay the groundwork for a model of spoken word recognition.

Design: Using a computerized lexicon consisting of transcriptions of 20,000 words, similarity neighborhoods for each of the transcriptions were computed. Among the variables of interest in the computation of the similarity neighborhoods were: 1) the number of words occurring in a neighborhood, 2) the degree of phonetic similarity among the words, and 3) the frequencies of occurrence of the words in the language. The effects of these variables on auditory word recognition were examined in a series of behavioral experiments employing three experimental paradigms: perceptual identification of words in noise, auditory lexical decision, and auditory word naming.

Results: The results of each of these experiments demonstrated that the number and nature of words in a similarity neighborhood affect the speed and accuracy of word recognition. A neighborhood probability rule was developed that adequately predicted identification performance. This rule, based onLuce's (1959) choice rule, combines stimulus word intelligibility, neighborhood confusability, and frequency into a single expression. Based on this rule, a model of auditory word recognition, the neighborhood activation model, was proposed. This model describes the effects of similarity neighborhood structure on the process of discriminating among the acoustic-phonetic representations of words in memory. The results of these experiments have important implications for current conceptions of auditory word recognition in normal and hearing impaired populations of children and adults.

Language Perception Laboratory, Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Science (P.A.L.), University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York; and Speech Research Laboratory, Department of Psychology (D.B.P.), Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana and DeVault Otologic Research Laboratory, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (D.B.P.), Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Address for correspondence: Paul A. Luce, Language Perception Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260.

Received May 12, 1997; accepted August 19, 1997

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