Purpose: This study aimed to examine how aging and modifications of critical acoustic parameters may affect the perception of whispered speech as a degraded signal.
Method: Forty Mandarin-speaking adults were included in the study. Part 1 of the study compared the perception of Mandarin lexical tones, vowels, and syllables in older and younger adults in whispered versus phonated speech conditions. Parts 2 and 3 further examined how modification of duration and intensity cues contributed to the perceptual outcomes.
Results: Perception of whispered tones was compromised in older and younger adults. Older adults identified lexical tones less accurately than their younger counterparts, particularly for phonated T2 and T3 and whispered T3. Aging also negatively affected the vowel identification of /i, u/ in the whispered condition. Syllable-level accuracy was largely dependent on the accuracy of lexical tones and vowels. Furthermore, reduced duration led to the decreased accuracy of phonated T3 and whispered T2 and T3 but increased accuracy of phonated T4. Reduced intensity lowered the recognition accuracy for phonated vowels /i, ɤ, o, y/ in older adults and /i, u/ in younger adults, and it also lowered the accuracy of whispered vowels /a, ɤ/ in older adults. Contrary to our expectation, increased duration and intensity did not improve older adults’ speech perception in either phonated or whispered conditions.
Conclusions: The results suggest that aging adversely affected speech perception in both phonated and whispered conditions with more challenges in identifying whispered speech for older adults. While older adults’ diminished performance may be potentially due to problems with processing the degraded temporal and spectral information of the target speech sounds, it cannot be simply compensated for by increasing the duration and intensity of the target sounds beyond the audible level.
Scopus Subject Areas
- Language and Linguistics
- Linguistics and Language
- Speech and Hearing