Language and Speech Laboratory

The foreign language cocktail party problem: energetic and informational masking effects in non-native speech perception

Martin Cooke, Mª Luisa García Lecumberri, Jon Barker.

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America      volume:123:414-427.

Studies comparing native and non-native listener performance on speech perception tasks can distinguish the roles of general auditory and language-independent processes from those involving prior knowledge of a given language. Previous experiments have demonstrated a performance disparity between native and non-native listeners on tasks involving sentence processing in noise. However, the effects of energetic and informational masking have not been explicitly distinguished. Here, English and Spanish listener groups identified keywords in English sentences in quiet and masked by either stationary noise or a competing utterance, conditions known to produce predominantly energetic and informational masking, respectively. In the stationary noise conditions, non-native talkers suffered more from increasing levels of noise for two of the three keywords scored. In the competing talker condition, the performance differential also increased with masker level. A computer model of energetic masking in the competing talker condition ruled out the possibility that the native advantage could be explained wholly by energetic masking. Both groups drew equal benefit from differences in mean F0 between target and masker, suggesting that processes which make use of this cue do not engage language-specific knowledge.