Speech perception and spoken word recognition: past and present

Ear Hear. 2002 Feb;23(1):2-40. doi: 10.1097/00003446-200202000-00002.


The scientific study of the perception of spoken language has been an exciting, prolific, and productive area of research for more than 50 yr. We have learned much about infants' and adults' remarkable capacities for perceiving and understanding the sounds of their language, as evidenced by our increasingly sophisticated theories of acquisition, process, and representation. We present a selective, but we hope, representative review of the past half century of research on speech perception, paying particular attention to the historical and theoretical contexts within which this research was conducted. Our foci in this review fall on three principle topics: early work on the discrimination and categorization of speech sounds, more recent efforts to understand the processes and representations that subserve spoken word recognition, and research on how infants acquire the capacity to perceive their native language. Our intent is to provide the reader a sense of the progress our field has experienced over the last half century in understanding the human's extraordinary capacity for the perception of spoken language.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Phonetics
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Speech-Language Pathology / trends*
  • Verbal Behavior*
  • Vocabulary*