Category Archives: Proceedings

Revolutionizing Phonetic Research with Gamification: A New Approach to Accent Studies

Introduction: In the dynamic field of phonetic research, finding innovative ways to collect data can be both a challenge and an opportunity. At our P&P group, Cong, Yanyu, and Damar are taking a leap forward with their latest study, “Gamifying Phonetic Data Collection: An Accent Identification and Attitude Study.” This blog post delves into how they are incorporating gamification into phonetics, transforming the way they understand accents and linguistic attitudes.

The Challenge of Traditional Data Collection: Traditionally, collecting phonetic data has been a straightforward yet often tedious task, both for researchers and participants. Recognizing this, Cong and her colleagues wondered: Could the principles of gaming enhance the data collection process in phonetic studies?

The Innovative Approach: The study is pioneering in its approach, merging the realms of gaming with linguistic research. The core aims include:

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of gamified methods in phonetic data collection.
  • Investigating the influence of geographical location on accent identification and attitudes.

Gamification in Action: One of the highlights of the project is the use of a game-based study by identifying native English accents used in the speech on the map of the UK. The leader board and the points shown at the end of each block function as the motivations for participants. This innovative tool not only engages participants in a unique way but also offers deeper insights into how accents are perceived and understood in various geographical contexts.

Preliminary Findings and Insights: While it was a small-scale study in which participants were mainly members of our group, initial findings suggest that gamification can significantly improve participant engagement and the quality of data collected. These insights have the potential to reshape how we conduct phonetic research in the future.

Thoughts From the Group:

  • Ghada: Researchers in the fields of phonetics and phonology have long recognized the accent bias issues in everyday activities. Now, it seems to be the right time to move a step forward and explore what we, as phonoticians or linguists, should do next.
  • Fengting: In many sociolinguistic studies on language attitudes, as well as perceptual studies on accentual adaptation and generalization, researchers often do not provide details on how they recruit talkers, and standards have not been set for the selection of accented speech used in this research. This raises the question of how we can be sure that we are researching the actual accents that interest us. A further question is: from whom can accented speech be considered a good representation of the accent?

Conclusion: With continuous exploration in the realm of gamified phonetic studies, we’re enthusiastic about the prospects this approach holds. Stay tuned for more updates and detailed findings in the future.

Your thoughts, feedback, and insights are always welcome!

Effects of vowel and syllable position on laterals in bilingual speakers of English and Spanish

Date: 23/11/2022

Being interested in sound systems from the perspective of both production and perception, Niamh Kelly ran a project examining the production of /l/ sounds by bilingual speakers of English and Spanish from the El Paso region, to investigate the effects of language dominance on velarisation patterns. She also ran a pilot study where she looked at the production of /z/ sound of a bilingual across time. Here, we had her give us a presentation of the outputs of her work.

Part 1: A bilingual community on the US-Mexico border: what are they doing with their [l]?

Background information:

Transfer can occur in the productions of multilinguals, where one language influences the other and such effects can go in either direction between the L1 and L2. Sometimes, speakers are found to have productions that are intermediate between the two languages. In some regions, the whole community is bilingual, making it convenient to look at language transfer effects. 

Although similar to each other, the /l/ sounds in American English (AmE) and Spanish are not exactly matched up. While /l/ sound in Spanish is realised as fronted (light/clear) /l/, in AmE it is more velarised overall, especially when it is in codas. 

The participants in this research lived in a city (El Paso) on the US-Mexico border, which is a bilingual community.

Research questions:

This research asks:

  1. To what extent do balanced bilingual speakers show transfer effects in laterals? That is, are there positional effects in just English or in both English and Spanish?
  2. What effects of vowel height and front/backness have on velarisation in laterals in both languages?


Since these speakers are balanced bilinguals, they could be expected to keep their languages separate: English /l/ would be more velarised overall than Spanish /l/, and that in English, coda /l/ would be more velarised than onset /l/, while in Spanish no such difference would occur. 


From the analysis of the participants’ production in both English and Spanish the following results emerged:

  1. English and Spanish were significantly different in both positions. /l/ was more velarised in English than Spanish in both onset and coda position.
  2. /l/ was more velarised in codas than onsets in English while no such positional difference emerged in Spanish.

 Next steps:

Research like this and more further research can help in adding to the description of non-mainstream varieties of English and varieties used by multilinguals. 

Part 2: A bilingual across time: what happened to his /z/? Acquisition of voicing in English /z/ by an L1 Norwegian speaker in a 25-year period.

Background information:

The English /s/ – /z/ contrast has been found to be difficult to acquire for L2 English speakers who do not have this contrast in their L1. Norwegian-accented English has a lack of voicing in /z/ since Norwegian does not have /z/.

Current study:

This study is a longitudinal study of the L2 English of L1 Norwegian speaker Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Ten interviews from two time periods, 1996-8 and 2021 were examined, focusing on his English productions of /s/ and /z/ and how production patterns change over time. There variables were coded: position in word (medial or final), preceding segment (voiced or voiceless), and morphemic status (morphemic, e.g., ‘goals’ vs stem, e.g., ‘please’).


  1. In the Early timeframe, 100% of /s/ tokens were voiceless and 93% of /z/ tokens were voiceless. In the Late timeframe, 98.5% of /s/ tokens were voiceless (no significant effect of timeframe) and 46% of /z/ tokens were voiceless (a significant effect of timeframe).
  2. Duration was longer when voiceless (supporting the auditory categorisation) but not affected by position in word.
  3. No difference based on morphemic status.

Discussion and next steps:

More exposure to and practise with the L2 has led to an increase in L2-like voicing productions. OGS is acquiring a new voicing contrast, but has not acquired it completely as only about half of /z/ tokens were voiced. More work can be done to look at other fricatives and also the intermediate time frame. 

General conclusion:

  1. Here we find transfer of L1 phonetic and phonological patterns to L2 at the individual level, which can continue even after years of exposure and use. 
  2. It also occurs on a larger scale when a community is bilingual.
  3. It is important for linguists to describe non-mainstream varieties. 

Nonword Learning Project

Date: 14/11/2022

Rory Turnbull gave us a talk on his research on what influences the phonological structure of the words in a language. 

The train of thoughts:

The talk started with narrowing down the research questions: from the big question of why languages are the way they are to specific questions of what influences language structure and makes languages have the words that they have and not other words. His current research is on: what influences the phonological structure of the words in a language? While the typical answer to the question is phonotactics, his response is that ‘some’ functional pressures may also affect the phonological structure. 

Prior work:

Rory’s prior work suggests that natural languages have unexpectedly smooth phonological networks where each word is a nod and a link exists between two words if they are phonological neighbours (only differ by the deletion, insertion, or substitution of a single phoneme). It means that some words are alone in the network while some have loads of neighbours. Based on previous findings, he proposed: these ‘extreme’ words (unusually clumpy or sparse in the lexicon) are harder to learn and harder to retain than non-extreme words.

Pilot planning:

A pilot is in the plan which aims to test the nonwords learning of native British English participants. At the end of this session, our group provided feedback on the experimental design and recommendations on literature and related topics.

Research Group Meeting 08 Nov 2018 – Ebtehal Asiry & Jane Stuart Smith

Last week we were very privileged to host Ebtihal Asiry and Jane Stuart-Smith at our research group meeting.

Ebtihal presented on “Investigating phonological variation in the English of Iraqi Arabs in two UK cities: London and Glasgow” (slides here), her PhD project, which is fascinating work on contrasting Iraqi immigrants in London who are two communities, a large longstanding (1960s) middle class community and more recent (2003) refugees/asylum seekers; and those in Glasgow who are a small, recent community (1999).

Jane presented on her current project, SPADE, which “aims to develop and apply user-friendly software for large-scale speech analysis of existing public and private English speech datasets.”

Journal of Phonetics VOT special edition

Off the back of their success in winning the Peter Ladefoged Prize at BAAP 2018, Jalal and Ghada have now had their work on VOT of Arabic stops published in the Journal of Phonetics special edition ‘Marking 50 Years of Research on Voice Onset Time’. Check it out here – “Acoustic correlates of the voicing contrast in Lebanese Arabic singleton and geminate stops”


  • The voicing contrast in Lebanese Arabic interacts with gemination in complex ways.
  • Closure duration is key for the voicing and gemination contrasts in medial position.
  • Voicing patterns point to [voice] as primary and [tense] as secondary feature.
  • More devoicing is seen in voiced geminates than singletons.
  • Release properties of voiced geminates align more with lenis than fortis languages.