Language and Speech Laboratory

Spectral and temporal changes to speech produced in the presence of energetic and informational maskers

Martin Cooke, Youyi Lu.

J. Acoust. Soc. Am.      volume:128:2059-2069.

Talkers change the way they speak in noisy conditions. For energetic maskers, speech production changes are relatively well-understood, but less is known about how informational maskers such as competing speech affect speech production. The current study examines the effect of energetic and informational maskers on speech production by talkers speaking alone or in pairs. Talkers produced speech in quiet and in backgrounds of speech-shaped noise, speech-modulated noise, and competing speech. Relative to quiet, speech output level, spectral tilt and fundamental frequency increased in proportion to the energetic masking capacity of the background. In response to modulated backgrounds, talkers were able to reduce substantially the degree of temporal overlap with the noise, with greater reduction for the competing speech background. Reduction in foreground-background overlap can be expected to lead to a release from both energetic and informational masking for listeners. Passive changes in speech rate, mean pause length or pause distribution can not explain the overlap reduction, which appears instead to result from a purposeful process of listening while speaking. Talkers appear to monitor the background and exploit upcoming pauses, a strategy which is particularly effective for backgrounds containing intelligible speech.