Creel, S. C., & Tumlin, M. A. (2011). On-line acoustic and semantic interpretation of talker information. Journal of Memory and Language. Elsevier Inc. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2011.06.005 (available on-line)


Recent work demonstrates that listeners utilize talker-specific information in the speech signal to inform real-time language processing. However, there are multiple representational levels at which this may take place. Listeners might use acoustic cues in the speech signal to access the talker’s identity and information about what they tend to talk about, which then immediately constrains processing. Alternatively, or simultaneously, listeners might compare the signal to acoustically-detailed representations of words, without awareness of the talker’s identity. In a series of eye-tracked comprehension experiments, we explore the circumstances under which listeners utilize talker-specific information. Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrate talker-specific recognition benefits for newly-learned words both in isolation (Experiment 1) and with preceding context (Experiment 2), but suggest that listeners do not strongly semantically associate talkers with referents. Experiment 3 demonstrates that listeners can recognize talkers rapidly, almost as soon as acoustic information is available, and can associate talkers with multiple arbitrary referents. Experiment 4 demonstrates that if talker identity is highly diagnostic on each trial, listeners readily associate talkers with specific referents, but do not seem to make such associations when diagnostic value is low. Implications for speech processing, talker processing, and learning are discussed.


Sarah Creel

Melanie A Tumlin