The influence of phonemic awareness development on acoustic cue weighting in children's speech perception
Scobbie, James M
In speech perception, children give particular patterns of weight to different acoustic cues (their cue weighting). These patterns appear to change with increased linguistic experience. Previous speech perception research has found a positive correlation between more analytical cue weighting strategies and the ability to consciously think about and manipulate segment-sized units (phonemic awareness). That research did not, however, aim to address whether the relation is in any way causal or, if so, then in which direction possible causality might move. Causality in this relation could move in 1 of 2 ways: Either phonemic awareness development could impact on cue weighting strategies or changes in cue weighting could allow for the later development of phonemic awareness. The aim of this study was to follow the development of these 2 processes longitudinally to determine which of the above 2 possibilities was more likely. Five-year-old children were tested 3 times in 7 months on their cue weighting strategies for a /so/–/So/ contrast, in which the 2 cues manipulated were the frequency of fricative spectrum and the frequency of vowel-onset formant transitions. The children were also tested at the same time on their phoneme segmentation and phoneme blending skills. Results showed that phonemic awareness skills tended to improve before cue weighting changed and that early phonemic awareness ability predicted later cue weighting strategies. These results suggest that the development of metaphonemic awareness may play some role in changes in cue weighting.