Effects of the rate of formant-frequency variation on the grouping of formants in speech perception

Robert J. Summers, Peter J. Bailey, Brian Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How speech is separated perceptually from other speech remains poorly understood. Recent research suggests that the ability of an extraneous formant to impair intelligibility depends on the modulation of its frequency, but not its amplitude, contour. This study further examined the effect of formant-frequency variation on intelligibility by manipulating the rate of formant-frequency change. Target sentences were synthetic three-formant (F1?+?F2?+?F3) analogues of natural utterances. Perceptual organization was probed by presenting stimuli dichotically (F1?+?F2C?+?F3C; F2?+?F3), where F2C?+?F3C constitute a competitor for F2 and F3 that listeners must reject to optimize recognition. Competitors were derived using formant-frequency contours extracted from extended passages spoken by the same talker and processed to alter the rate of formant-frequency variation, such that rate scale factors relative to the target sentences were 0, 0.25, 0.5, 1, 2, and 4 (0?=?constant frequencies). Competitor amplitude contours were either constant, or time-reversed and rate-adjusted in parallel with the frequency contour. Adding a competitor typically reduced intelligibility; this reduction increased with competitor rate until the rate was at least twice that of the target sentences. Similarity in the results for the two amplitude conditions confirmed that formant amplitude contours do not influence across-formant grouping. The findings indicate that competitor efficacy is not tuned to the rate of the target sentences; most probably, it depends primarily on the overall rate of frequency variation in the competitor formants. This suggests that, when segregating the speech of concurrent talkers, differences in speech rate may not be a significant cue for across-frequency grouping of formants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-280
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


  • auditory grouping
  • speech perception
  • speech rate
  • formant-frequency variation
  • informational masking


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