Talkers impart neuroperceptually expected metric structure during child-directed poetic speech 

Ahren Fitzroy & Mara Breen, Mount Holyoke College

Poster presented at The Neurosciences and Music - VI: Music, Sound, and Health, Boston, MA (2017)
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Audio examples:
Synthesized Cat In the Hat excerpt, normal order

Synthesized Cat In the Hat excerpt, random order

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Our overarching hypothesis is that metric structure in speech is useful for guiding children’s segmentation during early language learning. We investigated then whether talkers and listeners confer similar metric structure to child-directed poetic speech. We modeled intensity variation in a corpus of productions of The Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss, 1957) using a metric accent model derived from music performance (Drake & Palmer, 1993). Using linear mixed-effects regression, we modeled the maximum intensity (dB) of each word as a function of metric strength. Consistent with the model, metric structure predicted word intensity: words aligned with beat one in a 6/8 metric structure were produced with the greatest intensity, and words aligned with beat four were produced with intensity less than beat one but greater than all others. Consistent with prior work showing intensity reduction for predictable speech, words aligned with beat four were reduced when they completed a couplet. Preliminary event-related potential (ERP) data indicate that listeners confer a similar 6/8 metric structure on synthesized productions of The Cat in the Hat absent suprasegmental prosodic information. Together these findings suggest talkers impart metric structure to child-directed poetic speech in a manner that meets the neuroperceptual expectations of the listener.