Metric Learning for Phoneme Perception

by   Yair Lakretz, et al.

Metric functions for phoneme perception capture the similarity structure among phonemes in a given language and therefore play a central role in phonology and psycho-linguistics. Various phenomena depend on phoneme similarity, such as spoken word recognition or serial recall from verbal working memory. This study presents a new framework for learning a metric function for perceptual distances among pairs of phonemes. Previous studies have proposed various metric functions, from simple measures counting the number of phonetic dimensions that two phonemes share (place-, manner-of-articulation and voicing), to more sophisticated ones such as deriving perceptual distances based on the number of natural classes that both phonemes belong to. However, previous studies have manually constructed the metric function, which may lead to unsatisfactory account of the empirical data. This study presents a framework to derive the metric function from behavioral data on phoneme perception using learning algorithms. We first show that this approach outperforms previous metrics suggested in the literature in predicting perceptual distances among phoneme pairs. We then study several metric functions derived by the learning algorithms and show how perceptual saliencies of phonological features can be derived from them. For English, we show that the derived perceptual saliencies are in accordance with a previously described order among phonological features and show how the framework extends the results to more features. Finally, we explore how the metric function and perceptual saliencies of phonological features may vary across languages. To this end, we compare results based on two English datasets and a new dataset that we have collected for Hebrew.


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