Anticipatory coarticulation is an indispensable feature of speech dynamics contributing to spoken language fluency. Research has shown that children speak with greater degrees of vowel anticipatory coarticulation than adults – that is, greater vocalic influence on previous segments. The present study examined how developmental differences in anticipatory coarticulation transfer to the perceptual domain.
Using a gating paradigm, we tested 29 seven-year-olds and 93 German adult listeners with sequences produced by child and adult speakers, hence corresponding to low versus high vocalic anticipatory coarticulation degrees. First, children predicted vowel targets less successfully than adults. Second, greater perceptual accuracy was found for low compared to highly coarticulated speech. We propose that variations in coarticulation degrees reflect perceptually important differences in information dynamics and that listeners are more sensitive to fast changes in information than to a large amount of vocalic information spread across long segmental spans.