Acoustics and Perception of Clear Fricatives
University of Kansas
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Everyday observation indicates that speakers can naturally and spontaneously adopt a speaking style that allows them to be understood more easily when confronted with difficult communicative situations. Previous studies have demonstrated that the resulting speaking style, known as clear speech, is more intelligible than casual, conversational speech for a variety of listener populations. However, few studies have examined the acoustic properties of clearly produced fricatives in detail. In addition, it is unknown whether clear speech improves the intelligibility of fricative consonants, or how its effects on fricative perception might differ depending on listener population. Since fricatives are the cause of a large number of recognition errors both for normal-hearing listeners in adverse conditions and for hearing-impaired listeners, it is of interest to explore these issues in detail focusing on fricatives. The current study attempts to characterize the type and magnitude of adaptations in the clear production of English fricatives and determine whether clear speech enhances fricative intelligibility for normal-hearing listeners and listeners with simulated impairment.In an acoustic experiment (Experiment I), ten female and ten male talkers produced nonsense syllables containing the fricatives /f, &thetas;, s, [special characters omitted], v, δ, z, and [y]/ in VCV contexts, in both a conversational style and a clear style that was elicited by means of simulated recognition errors in feedback received from an interactive computer program. Acoustic measurements were taken for spectral, amplitudinal, and temporal properties known to influence fricative recognition. Results illustrate that (1) there were consistent overall clear speech effects, several of which (consonant duration, spectral peak location, spectral moments) were consistent with previous findings and a few (notably consonant-to-vowel intensity ratio) which were not, (2) 'contrastive' differences related to acoustic inventory and eliciting prompts were observed in key comparisons, and (3) talkers differed widely in the types and magnitude of acoustic modifications.Two perception experiments using these same productions as stimuli (Experiments II and III) were conducted to address three major questions: (1) whether clearly produced fricatives are more intelligible than conversational fricatives, (2) what specific acoustic modifications are related to clear speech intelligibility advantages, and (3) how sloping, recruiting hearing impairment interacts with clear speech strategies. Both perception experiments used an adaptive procedure to estimate the signal to (multi-talker babble) noise ratio (SNR) threshold at which minimal pair fricative categorizations could be made with 75% accuracy. Data from fourteen normal-hearing listeners (Experiment II) and fourteen listeners with simulated sloping elevated thresholds and loudness recruitment (Experiment III) indicate that clear fricatives were more intelligible overall for both listener groups. However, for listeners with simulated hearing impairment, a reliable clear speech intelligibility advantage was not found for non-sibilant pairs. Correlation analyses comparing acoustic and perceptual style-related differences across the 20 speakers encountered in the experiments indicated that a shift of energy concentration toward higher frequency regions and greater source strength was a primary contributor to the "clear fricative effect" for normal-hearing listeners but not for listeners with simulated loss, for whom information in higher frequency regions was less audible.
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- Linguistics Dissertations and Theses 
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