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J Acoust Soc Am. 2012 Apr;131(4):3120-40. doi: 10.1121/1.3688515.

The role of stimulus cross-splicing in an event-related potentials study. Misleading formant transitions hinder automatic phonological processing.

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Institute of Psychology, University of Leipzig, Seeburgstrasse 14-20, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany.


The mental organization of linguistic knowledge and its involvement in speech processing can be investigated using the mismatch negativity (MMN) component of the auditory event-related potential. A contradiction arises, however, between the technical need for strict control of acoustic stimulus properties and the quest for naturalness and acoustic variability of the stimuli. Here, two methods of preparing speech stimulus material were compared. Focussing on the automatic processing of a phonotactic restriction in German, two corresponding sets of various vowel-fricative syllables were used as stimuli. The former syllables were naturally spoken while the latter ones were created by means of cross-splicing. Phonetically, natural and spliced syllables differed with respect to the appropriateness of coarticulatory information about the forthcoming fricative within the vowels. Spliced syllables containing clearly misleading phonetic information were found to elicit larger N2 responses compared to their natural counterparts. Furthermore, MMN results found for the natural syllables could not be replicated with these spliced stimuli. These findings indicate that the automatic processing of the stimuli was considerably affected by the stimulus preparation method. Thus, in spite of its unquestioned benefits for MMN experiments, the splicing technique may lead to interference effects on the linguistic factors under investigation.

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