LINGUIST List 28.4928

Sat Nov 25 2017

Review: Neurolinguistics; Phonetics; Phonology; Psycholinguistics: Kotzor, Lahiri (2017)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 25-Aug-2017
From: Maria Teresa Martinez-Garcia <>
Subject: The Speech Processing Lexicon
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Aditi Lahiri
EDITOR: Sandra Kotzor
TITLE: The Speech Processing Lexicon
SUBTITLE: Neurocognitive and Behavioural Approaches
SERIES TITLE: Phonology and Phonetics [PP]
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Maria Teresa Martinez-Garcia, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


The book “The Speech Processing Lexicon: Neurocognitive and Behavioural Approaches”, edited by Professors Aditi Lahiri and Sandra Kotzor, collects various contributions from scholars working on phonological processing. This special volume was prepared to recognize Professor Sheila Blumstein’s many and sustained contributions to the understanding of phonological processing and it stems from a workshop held at The Lords of the Manor (Cotswolds, UK), funded by the European Research Council. The book consists of an introduction and eleven chapters, covering a wide range of topics on acoustics, psycholinguistics, and neurolinguistics processing. Each of these chapters has a common aim: To provide new evidence regarding how speech and language are represented and processed in the brain, outlining the current direction of research in the field of phonological processing since Professor Blumstein started investigating the speech signal in the 1970s.

In the introduction, Professors Allard Jongman and Aditi Lahiri trace a short profile of Professor Blumstein’s activity in both researching and teaching, emphasizing how her work has impacted our current understanding on how speech is stored and represented in the brain. This first chapter is clear in motivating the rest of the book, as a way of understanding how Blumstein’s work has influenced our current understanding of the field, opening new areas for future research. The rest of the chapters in this commemorative volume are all inspired by Professor Blumstein’s work, by covering a wide range of topics reflecting her interests, models, and methodologies – acoustic analysis, eliciting speech production, behavioural as well as neurolinguistics experiments – all of which have been explored by her.

The studies presented in this volume vary in their specificity of representation. The different chapters in this book cover topics ranging from a more episodic approach considering talker specificity in Julia R. Drouin, Nicholas R. Monto, and Rachel M. Theodore (“Talker-specificity effects in spoken language processing: Now you see them, now you don’t”) to underspecified representation in Sandra Kotzor, Allison Wetterlin, and Aditi Lahiri (“Symmetry or asymmetry: Evidence for underspecification in the mental lexicon”). The invariance and categorization of phonological features is touched upon from different perspectives by Professor Sheila E. Blumstein herself (“Phonetic categories and phonological features: Evidence from the cognitive neuroscience of language”) as well as in chapters by Allard Jongman & Bob McMurray (“On invariance: Acoustic input meets listener expectations”), Emily Myers, Alexis, R. Johns, Sayako Earle, and Xin Xie (“The invariance problem in the acquisition of non-native phonetic contrasts: From instances to categories”), Joan A. Sereno (“How category learning occurs in adults and children”), and Kotzor, Wetterlin, & Lahiri. Vipul Arora and Henning Reetz (“Automatic speech recognition: What phonology can offer”) provide further evidence for the invariance of phonological features (rather than segments) via machine learning.

The studies reported in this book are not “only” limited to speech processing and representation in the brain, but some of the research also intends to provide evidence for interactions across multiple levels of language and speech processing. In this regard, Sara Guediche’s chapter (“Flexible and adaptive processes in speech perception”) reviews behavioural and functional neuroimagining results that provide evidence for interactions across multiple levels of language and speech processing, and Eiling Yee’s chapter (“Fluid semantics: Semantic knowledge is experience-based and dynamic”) focuses primarily on understanding how semantic information is stored and represented in the mental lexicon, by comparing how visual and perceptual information is integrated.

The invariance problem is further discussed in this volume by covering an equally broad number of phonological units.
Equally broad is the coverage of phonological units covered in this volume and which play a role in the invariance problem: variability in segmental features (e.g., the variability of cues that distinguish between fricative sounds in Jongman & McMurray), duration contrasts (e.g., the consonant duration differences in Bengali discussed in Kotzor, Wetterlin, & Lahiri), stress and tone (cf. Chao-Yang Lee, “Processing acoustic variability in lexical tone perception”) are all addressed. Issues about processing also extend to acquisition, multilingualism and language disorders, addressing concerns with processing phonological information by children (cf. Sereno), non-native speakers as well as speakers with language deficits (cf. Jack Ryalls and Rosalie Perkins, “Foreign accent syndrome: Phonology or phonetics?”).


This volume is very rich in both content, and experimental and theoretical approaches, which are presented and discussed by the authors of the single chapters. It is important to highlight how the different methodologies and perspectives proposed perfectly reflect the very complex topic of phonological processing, providing a more detailed perspective on how speech and language are stored and processed in the brain of different populations. That is, this book is not limited to understanding how one group (e.g., healthy adult native speakers) process speech, but compares them with other groups such as children and non-native speakers, as well as speakers with language deficits. Not only the variability is found in the samples from which the conclusions are drawn, but also on the variability of methods employed and discussed (from different perception and production tasks, to neurolinguistics, machine learning, and automatic speech recognition approaches). All this variability provides a broader, more comprehensive perspective on the phenomenon of phonological processing and on our understanding on how speech may be represented, stored, and processed in the brain. Considering factors such as different methodological paradigms or different populations, as this book considers, is one of the first steps towards addressing the problem of lack of generalizability of linguistics research (e.g., Chalhoub-Deville, Chapelle, & Duff, 2006; Krathwohl, 1993).

Another important addition of this book is the importance given to both theoretical discussion and methodological considerations, two points variously addressed in almost every chapter. It is to be noted that before Professor Blumstein started investigating the speech signal in the 1970s (e.g., Blumstein, Baker, & Goodglass, 1977), the prevalent scientific opinion was that there was no simple mapping between acoustic signal and perceived phonemes due to the variability observed in the speech signal (e.g., Halle, 1964). This volume is crucial to recognize how our understanding on the processing of speech has changed over the last 40 years and continues to change. Moreover, the editors have managed to include contributions from different authors, not only well-known researchers in the field (e.g., professors Blumstein, Jongman, McMurray, or Sereno), but also from young scholars, which testifies to the interest in this field, the emergence of a new generation of researchers, who add new perspectives on the path drawn by the experts, and their willingness to address all the open questions that still remain in the field.

This book is, without doubt, an excellent compendium of the different models, methodologies, samples of participants and data which are covered in the vast field of phonological processing. It is rather difficult to find negative remarks on this extremely precise collection of contributions. However, and personally, I think that this volume could have benefited from a final conclusion written by the editors, with a main summary of the topics covered by the contributions and a perspective on the work that still needs to be done. It is noteworthy stating, though, that the editors do a tremendous job introducing the topics to be discussed in the book throughout the introduction chapter and that, even though there is not a final chapter stating potential empirical or theoretical open questions for future research, this is something that is included at the end of each one of the individual chapters of the book. It seems that the editors worked hard to make sure each one of the contributors did not only provide a clear statement of their own research and its implications, but also that they state some of the currently open research questions that still need to be addressed.

Apart from providing a detailed account of some of the latest findings in the field of phonological processing, this book represents a useful manual for young scholars who want to open their perspectives on speech perception, production, representation, and processing in the brain. For this reason, it is definitely a recommendable book for those researchers interested in the field of phonological processing, including those who are just getting started in research. It not only provides a general overview of the field, but it discusses potential open research questions for future research and it provides a detailed literature review on each of the models, methodologies, samples of participants and data that have already been studied in the literature. This detailed literature review may be a more than suitable resource for those new researchers that need to find the references necessary to motivate and undertake their own research. This book is a more than appropriate way to pay homage to Professor Sheila Blumstein’s many and sustained contributions to the understanding in this discipline.


Blumstein, Sheila E., Errol Baker, & Harold Goodglass. 1977. Phonological factors in auditory comprehension in aphasia. Neuropsychologia, 15(1), 19-30.

Chalhoub-Deville, Micheline, Carol A. Chapelle, and Patricia A. Duff, eds. 2006. Inference and generalizability in applied linguistics: Multiple perspectives. Vol. 12. John Benjamins Publishing.

Halle, Morris. 1964. On the bases of phonology. In Fodor, J. A. & Katz, J. J. Eds. The Structure of Language. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Krathwohl, David. 1993. Methods of educational and social science research. White Plains, NY: Longman.


Maria Teresa Martinez-Garcia completed her PhD in Linguistics at the University of Kansas in August 2016. Her dissertation presented a psycholinguistic approach to understanding bilingual activation, by exploring how differences in stress placement between English-Spanish identical cognates affect how adult learners of Spanish use stress as a cue for word recognition. She continues her research on bilingualism and second language speech perception and production while working as an assistant professor in the Spanish department at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Her main research interests include bilingualism, second language acquisition, and speech perception and production.

Page Updated: 25-Nov-2017