Chunking of phonological units in speech sequencing

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© 2019 Elsevier Inc. Efficient speech communication requires rapid, fluent production of phoneme sequences. To achieve this, our brains store frequently occurring subsequences as cohesive “chunks” that reduce phonological working memory load and improve motor performance. The current study used a motor-sequence learning paradigm in which the generalization of two performance gains (utterance duration and errors) from practicing novel phoneme sequences was used to infer the nature of these speech chunks. We found that performance improvements in duration from practicing syllables with non-native consonant clusters largely generalized to new syllables that contained those clusters. Practicing the whole syllable, however, resulted in larger performance gains in error rates compared to practicing just the consonant clusters. Collectively, these findings are consistent with theories of speech production that posit the consonant cluster as a fundamental unit of phonological working memory and speech sequencing as well as those positing the syllable as a fundamental unit of motor programming.

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