Speech intonation and melodic contour recognition in children with cochlear implants and with normal hearing

Rachel L See, Virginia D Driscoll, Kate Gfeller, Stephanie Kliethermes, Jacob Oleson
Otology & Neurotology 2013, 34 (3): 490-8

BACKGROUND: Cochlear implant (CI) users have difficulty perceiving some intonation cues in speech and melodic contours because of poor frequency selectivity in the cochlear implant signal.

OBJECTIVES: To assess perceptual accuracy of normal hearing (NH) children and pediatric CI users on speech intonation (prosody), melodic contour, and pitch ranking, and to determine potential predictors of outcomes.

HYPOTHESIS: Does perceptual accuracy for speech intonation or melodic contour differ as a function of auditory status (NH, CI), perceptual category (falling versus rising intonation/contour), pitch perception, or individual differences (e.g., age, hearing history)?

METHOD: NH and CI groups were tested on recognition of falling intonation/contour versus rising intonation/contour presented in both spoken and melodic (sung) conditions. Pitch ranking was also tested. Outcomes were correlated with variables of age, hearing history, HINT, and CNC scores.

RESULTS: The CI group was significantly less accurate than the NH group in spoken (CI, M = 63.1%; NH, M = 82.1%) and melodic (CI, M = 61.6%; NH, M = 84.2%) conditions. The CI group was more accurate in recognizing rising contour in the melodic condition compared with rising intonation in the spoken condition. Pitch ranking was a significant predictor of outcome for both groups in falling intonation and rising melodic contour; age at testing and hearing history variables were not predictive of outcomes.

CONCLUSION: Children with CIs were less accurate than NH children in perception of speech intonation, melodic contour, and pitch ranking. However, the larger pitch excursions of the melodic condition may assist in recognition of the rising inflection associated with the interrogative form.

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