Rhythm, context effects, and prediction

Author(s): Laura Dilley


It has been proposed that the brain is a complex prediction engine which attempts to minimize prediction error through adaptive recapitulation of a signal source and comparison with incoming sensory information. One important factor influencing linguistic prediction that has been increasingly studied is the prosodic content of context speech, e.g., its rhythm, pitch, and timing. In this talk I discuss how context prosody provides a basis for prediction of linguistic content, structure, and use in sometimes surprising ways. It is argued that examination of individual differences in sensitivity to context prosody can provide a window into mechanisms for language perception, including the extent to which mechanisms may be domain-specific (i.e., dedicated to processing language), as opposed to domain-general. Moreover, it is argued that predictions enabled by context prosody are crucial to understanding the speech chain from speaker to listener. The speech signal is often highly ambiguous and underdetermined with respect to phonetic and lexical content and structure, and context prosody imposed by the speaker is argued to be a critical piece to the puzzle for understanding how listeners develop accurate neural predictions about a speaker’s intended message.

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