15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003


Contribution of Fine Phonetic Detail to Speech Understanding

Sarah Hawkins

University of Cambridge, UK

This paper first summarizes some phonetic observations that challenge theories of speech perception and speech understanding which assume the speech signal is converted to an abstract form, such as features or phonemes, before it can be understood, and that 'knowledge-driven' processes are largely 'top down' rather than signal-driven. Systematic variation in fine phonetic detail is shown to indicate linguistic structure of all types. Second, it outlines a model of speech understanding, Polysp, in which the speech signal is multi-purpose, with the same properties feeding different meaning systems, and in which processes of speech understanding are polysystemic, with the speech signal mapped directly to meaning whenever possible. The units of formal linguistic analysis are seen as self-organizing, emergent properties of such a system, rather than essential steps on the way to understanding, and they need not be completely systematic in any one person's mind.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Hawkins, Sarah (2003): "Contribution of fine phonetic detail to speech understanding", In ICPhS-15, 293-296.