Listeners identified a phonetically balanced set of consonant–vowel–consonant (CVC) words and nonsense syllables in noise at four signal-to-noise ratios. The identification scores for phonemes and syllables were analyzed using the j-factor model [Boothroyd and Nittrouer, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 84, 101–114 (1988)], which measures the perceptual independence of the parts of a whole. Results indicate that nonsense CVC syllables are perceived as having three independent phonemes, while words show j=2.34 independent units. Among the words, high-frequency words are perceived as having significantly fewer independent units than low-frequency words. Words with dense phonetic neighborhoods are perceived as having 0.5 more independent units than words with sparse neighborhoods. The neighborhood effect in these data is due almost entirely to density as determined by the initial consonant and vowel, demonstrated in analyses by subjects and items, and correlation analyses of syllable recognition with the neighborhood activation model [Luce and Pisoni, Ear Hear. 19, 1–36 (1998)]. The j factors are interpreted as measuring increased efficiency of the perception of word-final consonants of words in sparse neighborhoods during spoken word recognition.

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