Effects of token variability on our ability to distinguish between vowels

Rosalie M. Uchanski, Louis D. Braida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Even when the speaker, context, and speaking style are held fixed, the physical properties of naturally spoken utterances of the same speech sound vary considerably. This variability imposes limits on our ability to distinguish between different speech sounds. We present a conceptual framework for relating the ability to distinguish between speech sounds in single-token experiments (in which each speech sound is represented by a single wave form) to resolution in multiple-token experiments. Experimental results indicate that this ability is substantially reduced by an increase in the number of tokens from 1 to 4, but that there is little further reduction when the number of tokens increases to 16. Furthermore, although there is little relation between the ability to distinguish between a given pair of tokens in the multiple- and the 1-token experiments, there is a modest correlation between the ability to distinguish specific vowel tokens in the 4- and 16-token experiments. These results suggest that while listeners use a multiplicty of cues to distinguish between single tokens of a pair of vowel sounds, so that performance is highly variable both across tokens and listeners, they use a smaller set when distinguishing between populations of naturally produced vowel tokens, so that variability is reduced. The effectiveness of the cues used in the latter case is limited more by internal noise than by the variability of the cues themselves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-543
Number of pages11
JournalPerception and Psychophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1998


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