syllable-based confusions

So my current research focuses heavily on confusion, specifically phonetic confusions. For my disseration, I play people words mixed with noise, and ask them to type what they hear. Then I look at the types of mistakes they make. For example, pit and kit are often confused with one another, but pit and lit are not, because [p] and [k] have very similar acoustic properties, whereas [p] and [l] are not very similar.

I often wonder why I have chosen this line of research, and I think that it might have to do with the fact that I make many confusions of this sort myself. Sometimes I do it on purpose, to make people laugh, but frequently I also have genuine confusions. Today at school prospective graduate students are visiting, and the current grad students had breakfast with them. The student services coordinator, Sylvia, who was helping to arrange rides from the airport and such, came into the somewhat crowded and noisy room, and announced that [3 syllable word] Washington is on his way. I initially heard that three syllable word as “President”, and so I said “President?”, to which Sylvia emphatically replied, “Jonathan!”. It seems that most people heard Jonathan, but I really only perceived the fact that the word before Washington had three syllables, so I made an educated guess, which was “President”. Perhaps in the future I can construct some experiments to see if other people made these sorts of errors, where the exact sounds are incorrect, but some of the linguistic structure is still present, in this case the syllable. In fact, looking at my data from two syllables words and nonwords, all with a CVCCVC structure (C = consonant, V = vowel), most of the errors are disyllabic, and most preserve the consonant-vowel structure as well.

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