What does it take to stress a word? Digital manipulation of stress markers in ataxic dysarthria

Lowit, Anja and Ijitona, Tolulope and Kuschmann, Anja and Corson, Stephen and Soraghan, John (2018) What does it take to stress a word? Digital manipulation of stress markers in ataxic dysarthria. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. ISSN 1368-2822

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    Background: Stress production is important for effective communication, but this skill is frequently impaired in people with motor speech disorders. The literature reports successful treatment of these deficits in this population, thus highlighting the therapeutic potential of this area. However, no specific guidance is currently available to clinicians on whether any of the stress markers are more effective than others, to what degree they have to be manipulated, and whether strategies need to differ according to the underlying symptoms. Aims: In order to provide detailed information on how stress production problems can be addressed, our study investigated (1) the minimum amount of change in a single stress marker necessary to achieve significant improvement in stress target identification; and (2) whether stress can be signalled more effectively with a combination of stress markers. Methods & Procedures: Data were sourced from a sentence stress task performed by 10 speakers with ataxic dysarthria and 10 healthy matched control participants. Fifteen utterances perceived as having incorrect stress patterns (no stress, all words stressed or inappropriate word stressed) were selected and digitally manipulated in a stepwise fashion based on typical speaker performance. Manipulations were performed on F0, intensity and duration, either in isolation or in combination with each other. In addition, pitch contours were modified for some utterances. 50 naïve listeners scored which word they perceived as being stressed. Outcomes & Results: Results showed that increases in duration and intensity at levels smaller than produced by our control participants resulted in significant improvements in listener accuracy. The effectiveness of F0 increases depended on the underlying error pattern. Overall intensity showed the most stable effects. Modifications of the pitch contour also resulted in significant improvements, but not to the same degree as amplification. Integration of two or more stress markers did not result in better results than manipulation of individual stress markers, unless they were combined with pitch contour modifications. Conclusions & Implications: Our results highlight the potential for improvement of stress production in speakers with motor speech disorders. The fact that individual parameter manipulation is as effective as combining them will facilitate the therapeutic process considerably, as will the result that amplification at lower levels than seen in typical speakers is sufficient. The difference in results across utterance sets highlights the need to investigate the underlying error pattern in order to select the most effective compensatory strategy for clients.

    ORCID iDs

    Lowit, Anja ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0842-584X, Ijitona, Tolulope ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1801-8201, Kuschmann, Anja ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5396-9008, Corson, Stephen ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4394-551X and Soraghan, John ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4418-7391;