Deconstructing phonetic transcription: Covert contrast, perceptual bias, and an extraterrestrial view of Vox Humana

Benjamin Munson, Jan Edwards, Sarah K. Schellinger, Mary E. Beckman, Marie K. Meyer

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    66 Scopus citations


    This article honours Adele Miccio's life work by reflecting on the utility of phonetic transcription. The first section reviews the literature on cases where children whose speech appears to neutralize a contrast in the adult language are found on closer examination to produce a contrast (covert contrast). This study presents evidence from a new series of perception studies that covert contrast may be far more prevalent in children's speech than existing studies would suggest. The second section presents the results of a new study designed to examine whether nave listeners' perception of children's s and θ productions can be changed experimentally when they are led to believe that the children who produced the sounds were older or younger. Here, it is shown that, under the right circumstances, adults report more tokens of θ to be accurate productions of s when they believe a talker to be an older child than when they believe the talker to be younger. This finding suggests that auditory information alone cannot be the sole basis for judging the accuracy of a sound. The final section presents recommendations for supplementing phonetic transcription with other measures, to gain a fuller picture of children's production abilities.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)245-260
    Number of pages16
    JournalClinical Linguistics and Phonetics
    Issue number4-5
    StatePublished - Apr 2010

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    This research was supported by NSF grant BCS0729277 to Benjamin Munson, University of Minnesota Undergraduate Research Partnership Program grant to Marie K. Meyer and Benjamin Munson, and NIH grant R01 DC02932 and NSF grant BCS0729140 to Jan Edwards. We generously thank Kari Urberg-Carlson and Eden Kaiser for help with subject testing, and Jeff Holliday and Fangfang Li for help with the acoustic analyses in Table II.


    • Covert contrast
    • Phonetic transcription
    • Phonological acquisition
    • Speech perception


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