Aging-Related Decline in Phonated and Whispered Speech Perception Not Compensated For by Increased Duration and Intensity: Evidence From Mandarin-Speaking Adult Listeners

Min Xu, Jing Shao, Boquan Liu, Lan Wang, Hongwei Ding, Yang Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PURPOSE: This study aimed to examine how aging and modifications of critical acoustic parameters may affect the perception of whispered speech as a degraded signal. METHOD: Forty Mandarin-speaking adults were included in the study. Part 1 of the study compared the perception of Mandarin lexical tones, vowels, and syllables in older and younger adults in whispered versus phonated speech conditions. Parts 2 and 3 further examined how modification of duration and intensity cues contributed to the perceptual outcomes. RESULTS: Perception of whispered tones was compromised in older and younger adults. Older adults identified lexical tones less accurately than their younger counterparts, particularly for phonated T2 and T3 and whispered T3. Aging also negatively affected the vowel identification of /i, u/ in the whispered condition. Syllable-level accuracy was largely dependent on the accuracy of lexical tones and vowels. Furthermore, reduced duration led to the decreased accuracy of phonated T3 and whispered T2 and T3 but increased accuracy of phonated T4. Reduced intensity lowered the recognition accuracy for phonated vowels /i, ɤ, o, y/ in older adults and /i, u/ in younger adults, and it also lowered the accuracy of whispered vowels /a, ɤ/ in older adults. Contrary to our expectation, increased duration and intensity did not improve older adults' speech perception in either phonated or whispered conditions. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that aging adversely affected speech perception in both phonated and whispered conditions with more challenges in identifying whispered speech for older adults. While older adults' diminished performance may be potentially due to problems with processing the degraded temporal and spectral information of the target speech sounds, it cannot be simply compensated for by increasing the duration and intensity of the target sounds beyond the audible level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)735-749
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 13 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (11904381); the National Key R&D Program of China (2020YFC2004100); the Shanghai Educational Science Research Fund (C2021016); the Start-up Grant from Hong Kong Baptist University (162646); and Postgraduate Research & Innovation Program of Institute of Corpus Studies and Applications, Shanghai International Studies University. Y. Z. received additional support from University of Minnesota’s Brain Imaging Grant and Grand Challenges Exploratory Grant for international collaboration.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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