Date of Original Version




Abstract or Description

Studies involving human infants and monkeys suggest that experience plays a critical role in modifying how subjects respond to vowel sounds between and within phonemic classes. Experiments with human listeners were conducted to establish appropriate stimulus materials. Then, eight European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were trained to respond differentially to vowel tokens drawn from stylized distributions for the English vowels /i/ and /I/, or from two distributions of vowel sounds that were orthogonal in the F1–F2 plane. Following training, starlings' responses generalized with facility to novel stimuli drawn from these distributions. Responses could be predicted well on the bases of frequencies of the first two formants and distributional characteristics of experienced vowel sounds with a graded structure about the central "prototypical" vowel of the training distributions. Starling responses corresponded closely to adult human judgments of "goodness" for English vowel sounds. Finally, a simple linear association network model trained with vowels drawn from the avian training set provided a good account for the data. Findings suggest that little more than sensitivity to statistical regularities of language input (probability–density distributions) together with organizational processes that serve to enhance distinctiveness may accommodate much of what is known about the functional equivalence of vowel sounds.




Copyright 1998 Acoustical Society of America. This article may be downloaded for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the Acoustical Society of America. The following article appeared in Journal of the Acoustical Society of America Volume 104, Issue 6, pp. 3568-3582 and may be found at