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Listener Ratings and Acoustic Characteristics of Intonation Contours Produced by Children with Cochlear Implants and Children with Normal Hearing Open Access

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Cochlear implants (CIs), although effective in restoring auditory sensation for deaf individuals, are lacking in fundamental frequency (F0 or pitch) and temporal fine structure information. Consequently, many aspects of speech perception are significantly compromised. It is reasonable then to suspect that with limited access to F0 and fine temporal structure of speech, the ability to produce intonation patterns by children with cochlear implants (CWCI) would be affected as well. Therefore, perceptual and acoustic analyses were conducted in order to examine production of intonation patterns by CWCI to signal yes/no question and statement contrasts as compared to an age matched control group of children with normal hearing (CWNH). Fourteen CWCI participated in the study, ranging in age from 3;7 to 7;5 years; and 14 CWNH were between the ages of 3;4 – 7;4 years. Statements and questions were elicited using an innovative methodology during a role‐play session and were digitally recorded. The elicited productions were parsed, separate files were created for each utterance, and then utterances were randomly presented to a group of 10 normal hearing adult listeners via headphones. Listeners rated the intonation pattern of each production as ranging from falling to rising using a visual analog scale displayed on a computer screen. These represented the listener judgments data and analysis. For the acoustic analysis, the final two syllables of each utterance were identified and the beginning and end of each vocalic portion of the syllable (VPS) was marked using Praat software Version 5.3.51 (Boersma and Weenink, 2013). Mean F0) and intensity measures of the VPS were extracted. The results from the listener judgments task revealed that CWCI and CWNH could distinctively produce rising and falling intonation contrasts to signal a question or a statement. Results from the acoustic analyses suggested a systematic distinction in F0, and to a lesser extent, in intensity, between statements and questions. Examination of the relation between acoustic characteristics and adult listener perceived judgments of intonation revealed large, significant relationships between listener judgments and final syllable F0 as well as F0 and intensity changes between the final and penultimate syllables. Future research directions and clinical implications for evaluation and intervention of prosody are discussed.

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