The mental lexicon is fully specified: evidence from eye-tracking.
Four visual-world experiments, in which listeners heard spoken words and saw printed words, compared an optimal-perception account with the theory of phonological underspecification. This theory argues that default phonological features are not specified in the mental lexicon, leading to asymmetric lexical matching: Mismatching input (pin) activates lexical entries with underspecified coronal stops (tin), but lexical entries with specified labial stops (pin) are not activated by mismatching input (tin). The eye-tracking data failed to show such a pattern. Although words that were phonologically similar to the spoken target attracted more looks than did unrelated distractors, this effect was symmetric in Experiment 1 with minimal pairs (tin-pin) and in Experiments 2 and 3 with words with an onset overlap (peacock-teacake). Experiment 4 revealed that /t/-initial words were looked at more frequently if the spoken input mismatched only in terms of place than if it mismatched in place and voice, contrary to the assumption that /t/ is unspecified for place and voice. These results show that speech perception uses signal-driven information to the fullest, as was predicted by an optimal perception account.
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