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Ambiguous surface structure and phonetic form in French

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Levelt, W. J. M., Zwanenburg, W., & Ouweneel, G. R. E. (1970). Ambiguous surface structure and phonetic form in French. Foundations of Language, 6(2), 260-273.

In modern approaches to phonology a lack of clarity exists on the issue of whether phonetic facts are psychological or physical realities. The results from an experiment suggest that phonetic facts can be considered as psychological realities, but with the restriction that they can (but not necessarily always do) take acoustical shape. More specifically, the syntactic material consisted of ambiguous French sentences of the following sort: On a tourné ce film intéressant pour les étudiants. They were spoken (a) in disambiguating contexts, without the (four) readers noticing the ambiguities, and (b) without context, but with the instruction to make a conscious effort to disambiguate. By tape splicing, the contexts were removed from the context-embedded sentences. Twenty-eight native speakers of French listened to the sentences and judged whether one or the other meaning had been intended by the speaker. Subjects performed significantly above chance: 60% correct identifications for context-embedded sentences, 75% for context-free sentences. Pitch-amplitude analyses were made to determine the acoustical differences involved.