For Immediate Release:

April 5, 2006

Links between production and perception in speech

to be studied in NIH grant

NEW HAVEN, CT-- Haskins Laboratories, an independent research institute in New Haven, Connecticut, has been awarded $3,361,249 by the National Institutes of Health to continue the study of the links between production and perception in speech. Douglas H. Whalen, Ph.D., the Vice President of Research at Haskins, describes this 5-year project below:

 “We usually hear speech, so it is natural to think of it as sounds, but a long line of research suggests that we are actually hearing moving mouths. The mouth shapes the sound created by our vocal folds, and our brain unravels this shaping to figure out the linguistic message. The experiments in this project will explore how this link is made, using such tools as speech synthesis, ultrasound, optical tracking and perceptual assessment—that is, just plain listening. Whether we perceive sounds or movements might seem like a matter of definition, but it has consequences for how we rehabilitate stroke patients or help misarticulating children. 

“One line of research will test some mathematical ways of allowing machines to do this automatic extraction of movements to mimic the way that we believe that humans do it.  We will also look carefully at the English /r/ sound—an apparent case of an acoustic target with important implications for speech rehabilitation. Other studies will show how imitation works with foreign sounds, to let us know how children might begin to learn their own language. The importance of knowing some characteristics of the speaker—their resting posture, their vocal tract shape, and their usual speaking pitch—will also be addressed. Finally, there are some apparent cases in which these links break down, and these will be given a fuller treatment. Together, the results will enhance our understanding of the basic processes of speech and how we might fix them when they break down.”

Haskins Laboratories was founded in 1935 by the late Dr. Caryl P. Haskins. This independent research institute has been in New Haven, Connecticut since 1970 when it formalized affiliations with Yale University and the University of Connecticut. The Laboratories' primary research focus is on the science of the spoken and written word.

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