Which comes first: the phoneme or the word?

This module puts a new slant on an old conundrum, while pursuing our quest to unlearn some apparently obvious facts about speech that most of us learned in childhood and have seldom had reason to question.

One thing many of us know for sure is that if we hear a word – like ‘cat’ – then we must have heard its phonemes: ‘c-a-t’. Read the rest now >>>

 

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How do you know it’s the same word? Not because it sounds the same!

When we listen to speech, it seems like a sequence of words. But they are not all different words. Quite often we hear the same word repeated, sometimes several times in one utterance. For example if you read this paragraph out loud, you’d repeat the word ‘word’ several times.

Now here’s an interesting thing. Read the rest now >>>

 

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Counting sounds, and the topsy-turvy world of speech perception

It seems ‘as easy as ABC’ – counting the number of sounds in a simple word. But what is it we are actually counting?

Today's demonstration lets you into the secret. It's not as obvious as you think. Counting sounds may be easy (to those who have learned to do it) but it is certainly not simple. Read the rest now >>>

 

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Gating

Gating is a way of listening to speech - not, as we usually do, from the beginning of an utterance to the end, but from the middle out – as if you were gradually opening a gate to reveal more and more of the speech. It’s a bit hard to explain gating but very easy to demonstrate – and most people find it pretty amazing. Read the rest now >>>

 

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Surprising surprise: Letters aren’t all the same either!

We’ve seen some demonstrations in this module that most people find quite surprising. Words that are clearly ‘the same word’ actually sound quite different. 'The same phoneme’ has a different sound every time it is pronounced.

Somehow we expect speech to be more like writing, where repetitions of the same word, and the same letter, look the same.

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Word superiority

It seems obvious that we need to hear phonemes in order to hear words. However, this module has given quite a lot of surprising demonstrations to show that's not how it really is. Words rule! We can’t hear phonemes until we can hear words.

But should that really be so surprising?

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What should be true but isn’t

It seems easy to accept that we hear words by hearing phonemes. After all,  the idea that the phoneme, or individual speech sound, is the basic unit of speech is part of common knowledge. So much so that it seems perverse to even question it.

But let’s look at it another way: if phonemes really were the basic unit of speech, a lot of things should be true that we just don't observe in real life.

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