Description: speech


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Speech Processing Lab

How do human listeners comprehend spoken language? Research in the Speech Processing Lab explores the cognitive processes involved in mapping speech sounds onto linguistic representations. To that end, our research has focused on the perception of lexical tones. Lexical tones are prosodic features of speech that can be used for word distinctions. For example, in Mandarin the syllable ma with a high tone means “mother”, but ma with a low tone means “horse” instead. Since the majority of the world’s known languages are tone languages, a theory of speech communication requires the understanding of these suprasegmental aspects of speech.


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Fundamental frequency contours of the four Mandarin tones.


The knowledge of lexical tone processing has additional theoretical and practical implications. Lexical tones are usually the most challenging aspect of learning a tone language. A better understanding of tone perception may facilitate development of effective pedagogical strategies. Knowledge of tone processing may also be used to improve auditory prostheses for tone language users. Since lexical tone is a melodic feature of speech, knowledge of tone processing may enlighten the music-language relationship. Recent projects in the lab have explored to these topics through collaborative research.

See Publications for recent projects in the lab.


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