Mapping Perceptual Distances between Sibilant and Palatal Fricatives


  • Corey Telfer Health Canada, Radiation Protection Bureau, 775 Brookfield Rd. 6301B, Ottawa, ON, K1A ICI


The perception of fricatives is not well understood, in part because they are generated with air turbulence, which complicates their articulatory and acoustic properties (e.g. Shadle 2012). Sibilant fricatives are especially difficult to characterize because, unlike other obstruents, “ as well as manner cues are signaled primarily by the spectral structure of the segment itself’ (Toda et al. 2010:343), rather than by the formant transitions. While acoustic models of sibilants such as those of Howe & McGowan (2005) and Toda et al. (2010) continue to improve our understanding of these speech sounds, the precise organizational principles behind their perception remain unknown. Sibilant fricatives can be ordered along a one-dimensional continuum defined by the spectral mean. The spectral mean is inversely proportional to the volume of the sublingual cavity, so as the place of articulation approaches the anterior of the mouth, the spectral mean increases. While this simple representation captures the basic facts, it fails to account for more subtle distinctions, such as Fujisaki & Kunisaki’s (1978) finding that the Japanese alveolar fricative [s] is best modeled using a spectral distribution with two spectral peaks and one valley, rather than just a single peak. This study investigated whether or not certain pairs of sibilant and palatal fricatives were more difficult to differentiate than others. This was done by presenting listeners with synthesized stimuli in an AX discrimination task and recording their reaction times (RTs). The RTs from correct responses were then transformed and analyzed using multidimensional scaling (MDS) in order to reveal the relative perceptual distances between these fricatives.




How to Cite

Telfer C. Mapping Perceptual Distances between Sibilant and Palatal Fricatives. Canadian Acoustics [Internet]. 2012 Dec. 1 [cited 2021 Dec. 4];40(4):51-2. Available from:



Proceedings of the Acoustics Week in Canada