In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Speech Perception

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Edited Collections
  • Journals
  • Acoustic Variation
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Perception-Sociolinguistics Relation

Linguistics Speech Perception
Patrice Speeter Beddor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 March 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0089


Speech perception as an experimental discipline has a roughly sixty-year history. In a very broad sense, much of the research in this field investigates how listeners map the input acoustic signal onto phonological units. Determining the nature of the mapping is an intriguing issue because the acoustic signal is highly variable, yet perception remains remarkably constant (and accurate) across many types of variation. Consequently, an overarching goal that unifies and motivates much of the work is to account for perceptual constancy, that is, to understand the perceptual mechanisms by which listeners arrive at stable percepts despite acoustic variation. Some theoretical approaches to speech perception postulate that invariant properties in the input signal underlie perceptual constancy, thereby defining a research program aimed at identifying the nature of the invariants. Other approaches do not assume invariants but either require principles that account for the necessarily more complex mapping between signal and phonological representation, or require more complex representations. As a result, theoretical approaches differ as well in their assumptions concerning the relevant phonological units (features, gestures, segments, syllables, words) and the structure of these units (e.g., abstract representations, categories consisting of traces of acoustic episodes). Within this overarching agenda, researchers also address many more specific questions. Is speech perception different from other types of auditory processing? How do listeners integrate multiple sources of information into a coherent percept? What initial perceptual capabilities do infants have? How does perception change with linguistic experience? What is the nature of perceptual influences on phonological structures? How do social categories and phonetic categories interact in perception? This bibliography is selective in several respects. “Speech perception” has traditionally referred to perception of phonetic and phonological information, distinct from recognition of spoken words. The division between these two perspectives on the listener’s task has long been a questionable one, and is in many respects an artificial one that does not reflect important current research questions and methods. Although ideally a bibliography would bridge these two approaches, the focus here is almost exclusively on speech perception. Moreover, within this focus, particular emphasis has been given to perceptual issues that are at the interface with other subdisciplines of linguistics—in particular, phonology, historical linguistics, and sociolinguistics. Another area, in addition to word recognition, that is underrepresented in this bibliography is perception of prosodic properties, although some of the edited collections cited here include reviews of both of these areas.

General Overviews

Several excellent overview articles by major figures in the field of speech perception have appeared in the past decade. Although all approach the main issues in the field from a perspective intended to be accessible by nonspecialists, they will all likely be challenging resources for undergraduates if they have little background in phonetics or psychology. Diehl, et al. 2004 focuses exclusively on speech perception. Cleary and Pisoni 2001, Jusczyk and Luce 2002, and Samuel 2011 consider issues in word recognition as well. Fowler 2003 summarizes and assesses both the speech perception and production literatures.

  • Cleary, M., and D. B. Pisoni. 2001. Speech perception and spoken word recognition: Research and theory. In Blackwell handbook of sensation and perception. Edited by E. B. Goldstein, 499–534. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    Comprehensive review of major issues and findings in speech perception; offers more condensed coverage of theoretical approaches and of spoken word recognition.

  • Diehl, R. L., A. J. Lotto, and L. L. Holt. 2004. Speech perception. Annual Review of Psychology 55:149–179.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.142028

    Detailed presentation of three theoretical approaches: motor theory, direct realism, and general auditory and learning approaches. Provides critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches in light of selected classic perceptual phenomena. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Fowler, C. A. 2003. Speech production and perception. In Handbook of psychology. Vol. 4, Experimental psychology. Edited by A. F. Healy, R. W. Proctor, and I. B. Weiner, 237–266. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    Presents key arguments and findings for acoustic (auditory) and gestural theories of perception; also assesses the literature on the influences of experience and learning on perception. Linguists may especially appreciate that the review frames issues of perception and production within the context of the relation between phonetic and phonological forms.

  • Jusczyk, P. W., and P. A. Luce. 2002. Speech perception and spoken word recognition: Past and present. Ear and Hearing 23:2–40.

    DOI: 10.1097/00003446-200202000-00002

    Overview of major issues and findings, with particular attention to developmental speech perception. Theoretically, gives greater consideration to models of spoken word recognition than to theories of speech perception. An especially helpful aspect of this review is its focus on the historical context in which the major issues emerged. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Samuel, A. G. 2011. Speech perception. Annual Review of Psychology 62:49–72.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.121208.131643

    The most recent survey of the field. Pulls together issues, theories, and findings in speech perception and spoken word recognition, including work on statistical and perceptual learning of speech. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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