Experimental Linguistics Module – Autumn 2011

Tuesday 2-4pm, Bancroft Building room 102.6

  • Module Description

    The goal of this module is to take students with no prior training in the methods or tools of experimental psychological science and provide them with the theoretical and practical training required to be able to critically engage with the Psycholinguistics literature and to undertake experimental linguistics research themselves. The module will include hands-on training in inferential statistics and hypothesis testing, experimental design, data collection (including training in ethical human subjects research protocols), and data analysis. The module will also engage students in considering strengths and limitations of various kinds of linguistics data, and how multiple sources of data and methods of data collection can be combined to enhance understanding. Students will develop their critical reading skills and gain practice in presenting primary source literature to their peers.

Week 3: Levels of Representation in Speech Processing

Posted by Linnaea on October 18, 2011

After a couple of weeks of basic background and organisation, we finally got in to the core of the course this week. Starting with Tuesday’s class, and for the next 3 weeks, we’ll be focusing on the issue of speech perception and linguistic sound systems. Today we began with trying to appreciate the big picture issue: how do we reliably, rapidly, and apparently effortlessly, convert the sound waves that hit our ears and find their way into our brains into linguistic information? We talked about the fact that there is clearly something special about human brains that allows this to happen, since the same sound waves can hit the ears of your cat, or be picked up by a microphone attached to a computer, without the same resulting comprehension. A big, live, open research question is: what is it that’s special? I began the class with a short slide show providing some basic background about the human auditory system and sketched a basic story about how we start turning sound waves into neuro-electrical impulses that are interpretable by the brain.

Then we turned the class over to Anisha Mohammed, Emma Swan and Janusz Baginski, who lead a very audience-participation-full discussion of the two papers we read. Through a combination of games, small experiments, videos and slides, Anisha, Emma and Janusz tried to clarify some of the important basic distinctions between phonetics and phonology, and between conscious and unconscious knowledge of language.

We didn’t delve too deeply into the specifics of the experiments Phillips discusses, but I hope everyone is at least starting to feel like some aspects of speech perception are a little more familiar and accessible. In week 4 we’ll focus on the specific issue of phoneme perception, both from a developmental and neurobiological perspective.

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