Invited Speakers: Abstracts

Mechanisms and Disorders of Tone Processing
Patrick C. M. Wong
Stanley Ho Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience
Director, Brain and Mind Institute
Dept. of Linguistics & Modern Languages
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Along the ascending auditory pathway are neural structures that show sensitivity to frequency modulation and pitch. I will discuss a series of experiments that examine how linguistically relevant pitch patterns are processed along this pathway, and how long- and short-term auditory experiences may shape this pathway. I will then discuss the behavioral and neurological manifestations of amusia in tone language speakers. How ascending and descending neural connections may contribute to tone processing will be explored.


Speech recordings – the newest form of biological donation

Rupal Patel, Ph.D.
Professor, Northeastern University
Founder & CEO, VocaliD

Digital voices today continue to sound generic and robotic. Not only do they lack the clarity and naturalness of the human voice, they lack personality. At VocaliD, we can now reverse engineer a voice by taking speech recordings from a healthy talker and vocal samples from those who are unable to speak. That’s because we’ve discovered that the prosodic cues in residual vocalizations contain enough vocal DNA to seed the personalization process. People of all ages from around the world are sharing their voice on our Human Voicebank platform. Recorded using everyday technology like your computer, encrypted to protect confidentiality, stored on the cloud, typed for a match and blended to create a unique vocal persona. For all the worry about how technology is depersonalizing us, here’s a way in which technology can make us all a little more human. Where you don’t have to give up anything to gain. Where just one donated voice can generate hundreds of voices for those in need.


Different children, different prosody: individual differences in prosodic development

Aoju Chen
Utrecht University

Prosody plays an important role in communication. Although sensitivity to variation in prosodic parametersis already observed in infancy, learning to use prosody appropriately is a long and gradual process. Recent years have seen a significant increase in research on prosodic development in childhood across languages. However, little attention has been paid to individual variation in prosodic development, despite that language development is characterised by individual variation in general. This may be, in part, due to methodological difficulty in quantifying and qualifying individual differences in prosodic abilities. But it also reflects the implicit assumption that children with no overt language problems learn to produce the right prosodic form(s) in the right context at a similar pace following the same developmental stages. In this talk, I will question this assumption and show that individual variation in children’s prosodic abilities can be substantial and has its own developmental course in the light of findings from a three-year longitudinal study of acquisition of prosodic focus-marking in Dutch-speaking children. I will discuss individual variation from a longitudinal perspective at three levels, i.e. rate of acquisition (in production), relation between variation in prosodic abilities (in production) and variation in development in other areas (e.g. musicality and verbal intelligence), and relation between production and comprehension.


Rhythm, context effects, and prediction
Laura Dilley
Michigan State University

It has been proposed that the brain is a complex prediction engine which attempts to minimize prediction error through adaptive recapitulation of a signal source and comparison with incoming sensory information. One important factor influencing linguistic prediction that has been increasingly studied is the prosodic content of context speech, e.g., its rhythm, pitch, and timing. In this talk I discuss how context prosody provides a basis for prediction of linguistic content, structure, and use in sometimes surprising ways. It is argued that examination of individual differences in sensitivity to context prosody can provide a window into mechanisms for language perception, including the extent to which mechanisms may be domain-specific (i.e., dedicated to processing language), as opposed to domain-general. Moreover, it is argued that predictions enabled by context prosody are crucial to understanding the speech chain from speaker to listener. The speech signal is often highly ambiguous and underdetermined with respect to phonetic and lexical content and structure, and context prosody imposed by the speaker is argued to be a critical piece to the puzzle for understanding how listeners develop accurate neural predictions about a speaker’s intended message.