For this week’s Prosody Interest Group (PIG), we are excited to invite Dr. Ricardo Napoleão de Souza from the University of Edinburgh to talk about his recent research. Focusing on “Domain-Initial Strengthening from an Acoustic Perspective,” Dr. de Souza presented groundbreaking findings using data from varieties of English, Spanish, and Portuguese. It’s online and easy to sign up. Everyone interested is absolutely welcome to join!
From August 7th to 11th, our research group embarked on an illuminating expedition to the 20th International Congress of the Phonetic Sciences (ICPHS) 2023. As one of the most significant congresses in the field of phonetics, the ICPHS is a pivotal event that only occurs once every four years. We were proud to have nine active participants from our group in attendance. Of these, three members delivered compelling oral presentations, while the rest engaged the academic community through insightful poster presentations.
Within our research group, the conference served as a testament to our unity and collective strength. Every individual contributed to the tapestry of success, and the supportive atmosphere propelled each of us to excel. As questions flowed from the audience, they illuminated the depth of engagement and curiosity that permeated the conference. More details of what we presented in the congress will be provided in the following. This post also aims to encapsulate our experiences, learnings, and the milestones achieved during this prestigious event.
Objectives and Expectations
The overarching theme of ICPHS 2023 was “Intermingling Communities and Changing Cultures,” which deeply resonates with the emerging dynamics of our interconnected world. Over the past few decades, there has been an unprecedented surge in mobility and interpersonal contacts, disrupting the boundaries of national languages and impacting speech patterns universally.
Our primary objective for attending the congress was twofold. Firstly, we aimed to share our own insights and research findings with a broader academic community. We were particularly eager to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about how modern societal shifts are influencing phonetics and phonology. Secondly, we were excited to learn from other leading researchers in the field. We wanted to grasp what constitutes ‘trendy’ research currently and to understand how the academic discourse in this field is changing and evolving.
Moreover, we were keen to explore potential directions for future research and possible collaborative efforts. Given that the congress serves as a melting pot of ideas and innovations, we were optimistic about forging new academic alliances that could pave the way for co-operative ventures in the years to come.
Highlights and Contributions
1. Turnbull Rory: Phonological Network Properties of Non-words Influence Their Learnability
Rory’s study underscored the significance of a word’s phonological neighborhood in phonetic processing, extending this concept to non-words. By analyzing participant responses in an experimental setting, this study demonstrated that non-words with more “neighbors” and well-connected neighbors are learned with higher accuracy, indicating that existing lexicon can significantly influence the acquisition of new words.
2. Du Fengting: Rapid Speech Adaptation and Its Persistence Over Time by Non-Standard and Non-Native Listeners
Fengting’s study delved into the intriguing phenomena of how listeners adapt to accented speech, especially when the talkers share the same, similar or different language backgrounds. Through methodical research, the study revealed that both non-standard and non-native English listeners were more adept at perceiving and adapting to accents the same as their own, but not the similar or different one. Notably, this adaptation was not only immediate but also persisted over a 24-hour period, suggesting intriguing implications for language learning and communication.
This presentation offered an innovative perspective on how incremental cue training could aid in lexical tone learning for non-tonal language speakers. The findings suggest that employing exaggerated contrasts in pitch movements during the initial stages of training can significantly improve the learners’ ability to discern tonal differences, leading to comparable end-stage performance with conventional training methods.
1. Kelly Niamh: Interactions of Lexical Stress, Vowel Length, and Pharyngealisation in Palestinian Arabic
Niamh’s research filled a crucial gap in the understanding of lexical stress in Palestinian Arabic. By analyzing the acoustic correlates of lexical stress, she shed light on the nuanced interactions among stress, phonemic length, and pharyngealization, offering a comprehensive phonetic description of stress patterns in this Arabic variety.
2. Zhang Cong, Lai Catherine, Napoleão de Souza Ricardo, Turk Alice and Bogel Tina: Language Redundancy Effects on Fundamental Frequency (f0): A Preliminary Controlled Study
This study investigated the effects of language redundancy on fundamental frequency (f0), supporting the Smooth Signal Redundancy Hypothesis. Their controlled experiments revealed that language redundancy could indeed affect f0, potentially adding another layer to our understanding of prosodic structure.
This paper delved into the intricate relationship between voice onset time (VOT) and fundamental frequency (f0) in Jazani Arabic, proposing that f0 perturbation is predictable from VOT patterns. This lends further evidence to the theory of Laryngeal Realism and offers new insights into phonological representation.
This study questioned whether accent familiarity impacts narrative recall, particularly when listeners are exposed to different accents. Findings indicated a ‘familiarity benefit’ in Tyneside listeners, extending the impacts of accentual familiarity on language perception.
Our group’s robust contributions across diverse areas in phonetics and phonology were met with great interest and sparked important academic discussions, marking a significant footprint in the advancements of the field.
Reflection and Future Directions in Phonetics and Phonology
The congress served as an eye-opening experience that showcased the incredible diversity and depth of current research in phonetics and phonology. With hundreds of insightful studies, the event drew a roadmap for the future of these fields. While each study was a piece of a larger puzzle, the six keynote lectures stood out as beacons guiding the way forward.
Technological Advancements and Precision
Research in phonetics and phonology cannot stand alone; it requires the support of powerful tools to quantify sound features and visualize articulatory processes. Over the past few decades, these research tools have continually evolved, and numerous researchers have actively applied state-of-the-art technology in their studies. John Esling’s focus on the larynx as an articulator hinted at the importance of advanced imaging techniques, opening new avenues for understanding language development and linguistic diversity. Similarly, Paul Boersma’s discussion about the future of Praat emphasized how technology will revolutionize phonetic and phonological models. The convergence between these talks suggests a future where technology plays an increasingly central role in refining our analyses and providing greater computational power for simulating the nuances of speech.
As the landscape of research in phonetics and phonology broadens, the call for multidisciplinary perspectives becomes increasingly urgent. Ravignani Andrea and Stuart-Smith Jane both underscored the importance of multidisciplinary approaches. While Andrea seeks to combine ethology, psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral ecology to explore the origins of vocal rhythmicity, Stuart-Smith envisions a future where sociophonetic and social-articulatory data deepen our understanding of speech patterns related to identity, social class, and dialect. The common thread here is the necessity for interdisciplinary collaboration to answer complex questions that cannot be addressed by any single field alone.
Embracing Social Responsibility
Perhaps the most poignant insights came from talks focusing on the social aspects of research. Titia Benders emphasized the crucial need for expanding child language acquisition research to lesser-studied languages, not only to understand their unique phonological elements but also to develop inclusive research methods. Pavel Trofimovich, on the other hand, urged for a socially responsible approach to second-language speech research, one that balances academic rigor with meaningful social impact. These talks collectively call for a future where research is not just theoretically robust but also socially responsible, reaching communities and languages that have been traditionally underrepresented.
Together, the keynotes painted a vibrant picture of a future that is technologically advanced, inherently interdisciplinary, and deeply rooted in social responsibility. It is clear that the next wave of research in phonetics and phonology will be as diverse and dynamic as the voices that make up human language itself.
The insights gained from this year’s congress serve as a valuable roadmap for the direction of phonetic and phonological research, areas that are central to the mission of our research group. From the pivotal role of technology in advancing research methodologies to the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and social responsibility, the keynotes and studies presented offer a multifaceted view of the field’s future. As our group continues to explore new avenues of research, we are invigorated by the wealth of possibilities that these emerging trends present. They not only affirm the work we are currently undertaking but also challenge us to think about how we can contribute to these evolving dialogues in meaningful ways. Thank you for following along with our coverage of the congress, and stay tuned for upcoming research projects that will reflect these dynamic shifts in the field.
On Tuesday, we were delighted to welcome Dr. Byron Ahn for an in-depth workshop on the use of PoLaR in analyzing prosodic features of speech. The three-hour session delved deep into the intricate layers of intonation.
The workshop began by laying the groundwork. While segments in English (like consonants and vowels) shape the words we say, it’s the suprasegmentals that color how we say them. Prosody, thus, captures the nuances in tone, pitch, duration, and emphasis that breathe life into our words.
What sets PoLaR apart in the realm of prosodic analysis? Its rise in popularity stems from its decompositional and transparent labels, making it easy to grasp and apply. Unlike other systems such as TOBI, PoLaR labels concentrate solely on the foundational elements of prosodic structure, namely boundaries and prominences. This results in a richer phonetic detail about the pitch contour. Additionally, there’s no need for a language-specific phonological grammar with PoLaR, making it versatile and cross-linguistically applicable. Yet, it’s essential to note that PoLaR complements other labeling systems, like ToBI, rather than replacing them.
After providing the essential background introduction, Dr. Ahn guided us through the main tiers of PoLaR labelling, including the Prosodic Structure, Ranges Tier, Pitch Turning Points, and Scaled Levels. The session also touched upon Advanced labels, enabling a systematic tracking of a labeller’s theoretical analysis.
We’d like to express our deepest appreciation to Dr. Ahn for imparting his expertise and to all attendees for their active participation!
We are delighted to update our community on the successful completion of our recent workshop this Monday, titled “Training Your First ASR Model: An Introduction to ASR in Linguistic Research“.
The workshop was designed to delve deep into the foundational elements of Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) and its classical architecture. Focusing on the application of ASR practices in linguistic research, participants were guided through a flexible workflow of automatic forced alignment, demonstrated using various research scenarios. The primary objective of this session was to help our attendees understand the core concepts of ASR and provide them with the necessary tools to utilize ASR in their linguistic research.
Our workshop was led by Dr Chenzi Xu, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of York. Dr. Xu’s current work revolves around the fascinating project “Person-specific Automatic Speaker Recognition.” Concurrently, she is concluding her doctorate at the University of Oxford. Dr. Xu’s remarkable achievements in the field have been recognized with the prestigious Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, which she will commence at the University of Oxford next year.
- Introduction to ASR
- Exploration of Statistical Speech Recognition
- The Role of ASR in Linguistic Research
- Phonetics and Phonology
- Transcribing Fieldwork Speech Data
- Implementing Automatic Forced Alignment
- Examining Allophone Distributions
- Hands-on Session 1: Practising Automatic Forced Alignment
- Hands-on Session 2: Adapting Existing Models
- Hands-on Session 3: Training Acoustic Models
We trust that our attendees found the workshop both informative and practical. We appreciate the active participation and look forward to the impact this knowledge will have on our individual linguistic research projects!
From January 2022 to May 2022, our research group has continued to be well-engaged in projects from Semester 1 and arranged new workshops to discuss topics of interest amongst our team members. The following is a summary of what we covered this semester:
- Accent and Social Justice
Since the beginning of this academic year, we have focused on the theme ‘Accent and Social Justice’, reviewed several related articles, and had Melissa Baese-Berk from the University of Oregon share her and her colleagues’ recent research with us. We organised and held an interdisciplinary workshop on accent, communication, and social justice in March of this Semester which was very successful. We were honoured to have presenters from both within our research group and outside of the group share their research and opinions. More information can be found in this blog post.
- Many Speech Analyses
One of our main discussion topics of Semester 2 has been the Many Speech Analyses project we signed up for at the end of last semester. This project aims to compare what approaches different researchers take to answer the same research question using the same dataset. The general research question is: ‘Do speakers phonetically modulate utterances to signal atypical word combinations?’. We scheduled fortnightly meetings for this project. We started by reviewing other studies to help us plan a suitable analysis and decided to measure the timing of utterances to answer the research question. We imported the sound files to the MFA (Montreal Forced Aligner) for the forced alignment, and the results were distributed to the members for the crossed hand-correcting. Rory Turnbull, our project leader who is also a member of the P&P research group, guided us in extracting the timing of articulation of certain vowels. After analysing the dataset and submitting our report, we took a few weeks to review the reports from other researchers/research groups. Some peer analyses involved certain research methods or related tools unfamiliar to us, allowing us to expand our knowledge outside our expertise. These included:
- Forced alignment and inter-rater reliability in Praat
During a couple of weekly meetings, we had Caitlin Halfacre and Rory run Forced alignment in the Montreal Forced Aligner and demonstrate how to hand-correct it in Praat, such as tier setting, labelling and calibration of the initial phone etc. Group members teamed up separately to help each other and shoot problems together. Bruce Wang coded in Praat to sample and measure the agreement of each text grid from the crossed hand-correct. The inter-rater reliability of our group members turned out to be quite strong.
- Praat Phonetic Analysis
After checking the correctness and reliability of phone alignment, Rory led two sessions demonstrating how to extract specific labels and measure the timing of utterances by coding in Praat.
- Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
When we reviewed other researchers’ reports, we found certain research methods which were unfamiliar to us, such as DSP. We used a session as an introduction to these techniques. During this session, we watched a video to recap the anatomy of sound perception, discussed the anatomy of the cochlea, and talked about the acoustic versus auditory differences between two tones that are 100 Hz apart and gammatone filter back. However, without a well-established background in neurolinguistics, it’s still difficult for us to fully understand what the results of one peer reviewed report meant.
To conclude, we successfully ran the ‘Accent and Social Justice’ workshop and completed the Many Speech Analyses project together this semester and learnt much research knowledge and relevant expertise from this experience. We expect to explore more exciting topics and themes in the future and keep updating and publicising our work here.
Our research theme for 2021/22 has been “Accent and Social Justice”. We have read and reviewed literature on accent processing and perception, and discussed the prejudices towards certain accents and the injustices those may experience.
In order to spread awareness about accent and social justice, and the research our group has undertaken, we have organised an interdisciplinary workshop on accent, communication and social justice, which will be held on 30/03/2022.
The workshop will consist of presentations from members of our research group and academics outside of the field of Phonetics and Phonology who have an interest and knowledge in our research theme. Topics which will be discussed include self-descriptions of UK-based English accents; constructing native speakerism in Chinese community schooling; and racist nativism in England’s education policy, to name a few. The abstracts for each presentation can be found here. There will be time for discussion after each presentation to give attendees the chance to ask questions, exchange ideas, and explore the topics further.
The workshop will begin at 9am on Wednesday 30th March. It will be a hybrid event meaning people can attend in person or via Zoom. For those attending in person, the workshop will be held in room G.21/22 of the Devonshire Building at Newcastle University. Lunch will begin at 12pm and refreshments will be provided. This will be another opportunity for attendees to mingle and discuss the topics explored. The workshop will end at 1pm. The full workshop programme can be viewed here.
If you are interested in attending our workshop, you can sign up using this link.
We look forward to seeing you and hope this workshop enables you to delve into rich discussion around a very important issue.
From September 2021 to February 2022, our research group has been very active and involved in several projects. Here is a short summary of what we discussed during our weekly meetings:
- Accent and Social Justice:
Within our research theme for this year, “Accent and Social Justice”, we reviewed recent literature on how different accents are processed, perceived and potentially discriminated against. We also attended a talk by Melissa Base-Berk from the University of Oregon, in which she discussed her novel and fascinating research on accent perception and adaptation. Have a look at this blog post if you would like to find out more. Currently, we are organising an interdisciplinary workshop on accent, communication and social justice, to be held in March 2022. Watch this space for further information on the event.
- Quantitative Methods:
Bilal Alsharif, a member of our research group, provided us with an introduction to Bayesian methods. We discussed their benefits and challenges in comparison with frequentist methods. Our interest in everything quantitative did not stop there, as we held weekly study group meetings to brush up on our statistics and R skills. The statistic study group will be continuing this semester.
- Many Speech Analyses:
As a group, we signed up for this large collaborative project. The aim of the project is to compare the approaches that different researchers take to answer the same research question (“Do speakers phonetically modulate utterances to signal atypical word combinations?”) with the same dataset. We have already explored the dataset and will discuss in the following weeks which methods we want to use. You can find out more about Many Speech Analysis on the project website.
- Noise-Masking of Speech:
Another topic of discussion came from Andreas Krug, who was wondering why some of the speakers in his study were easier to hear over noise than others. We had a look at potential acoustic measures to quantify this and how to deal with these differences in an experimental design and statistical analysis.
- Transcription Training:
We practised our phonetic transcription skills with some of Ghada Khattab‘s Arabic data. We discussed the differences in our transcriptions and compared the realisations we heard with the target realisations in Arabic. We are planning to practise transcriptions of other speech data this semester, including dysarthric speech, to further our transcription skills.
- New Doctors:
Our members Nief Al-Gambi and Bruce Wang successfully completed their vivas. Congratulations to the two of them!
We are looking forward to keep working on these projects in Semester 2. You can check our website to keep up to date with our work.