Disentangling the role of biphone probability from neighborhood density in the perception of nonwords

Jeremy Steffman*, Megha Sundara

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In six experiments we explored how biphone probability and lexical neighborhood density influence listeners’ categorization of vowels embedded in nonword sequences. We found independent effects of each. Listeners shifted categorization of a phonetic continuum to create a higher probability sequence, even when neighborhood density was controlled. Similarly, listeners shifted categorization to create a nonword from a denser neighborhood, even when biphone probability was controlled. Next, using a visual world eye-tracking task, we determined that biphone probability information is used rapidly by listeners in perception. In contrast, task complexity and irrelevant variability in the stimuli interfere with neighborhood density effects. These results support a model in which both biphone probability and neighborhood density independently affect word recognition, but only biphone probability effects are observed early in processing.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage and Speech
Early online date9 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 May 2023


  • speech perception
  • phonetic categorization
  • phonotactic probability
  • lexical neighborhood density
  • eyetracking


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