The perceptual basis of the feature vowel height

Katerina Chladkova, Paul Boersma, Titia Benders

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The present study investigated whether listeners perceptually map phonetic information to phonological feature categories or to phonemes. The test case is a phonological feature that occurs in most of the world’s languages, namely vowel height, and its acoustic correlate, the first formant (F1). We first simulated vowel discrimination in virtual listeners who perceive speech sounds through phonological features and virtual listeners who perceive through phonemes. The simulations revealed that feature listeners differed from phoneme listeners in their perceptual discrimination of F1 along a front-back boundary continuum as
compared to a front (or back) continuum. The competing predictions of phoneme-based versus feature-based vowel discrimination were explicitly tested in real human listeners. The real listeners’ vowel discrimination did not resemble the simulated phoneme listeners, and was compatible with that of the simulated feature listeners. The findings suggest that humans perceive vowel F1
through phonological feature categories like /high/ and /mid/.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of ICPhS 2015
Place of PublicationGlasgow
PublisherUniversity of Glasgow
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9780852619414
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes
EventInternational congress of phonetic sciences (18th : 2015) - Glasgow, UK
Duration: 10 Aug 201514 Aug 2015


ConferenceInternational congress of phonetic sciences (18th : 2015)
CityGlasgow, UK

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • speech perception
  • vowel discrimination
  • vowel height
  • distinctive features


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