Research Projects

NIH Grant PO1 HD-01994 - Nature and Acquisition of the Speech Code and Reading
(Jay Rueckl, PI/A40)

Research Goals: The primary goal of this program is to further our understanding of the components of language that underlie linguistic competence as it functions in speech and reading. We leverage progress from the current grant cycle in developmental neuroimaging and computational modeling to address two overarching themes. First, to develop an integrative computational framework for connecting speech and reading. Second, this program has long sought to link reading (and its disorders) to the machinery for speech, and in the proposal we employ cognitive testing and age-appropriate neuroimaging to the developmental stages where the link must be most prominent, as children transition from phonological processing to orthographic learning. We test a specific hypothesis, garnered from years of research in this Program that places the origins of literacy problems directly in the brain mechanisms for speech perception and speech production.
Our program comprises four projects and three cores. Project 1 will observe high and low risk children as they transition from basic speech processing to phonological awareness (ages 4 to 6.5) and orthographic learning (ages 6 to 8.5). It is here that we test the critical hypothesis that the roots of atypical reading development lie in earlier problems in the machinery for speech perception, speech production, and perception/production interactions. Projects II and III extend the development of the theoretical foundations underlying Project I’s investigations. Project II focuses on the nature of the speech code, advancing the theory of Articulatory Phonology, revealing how phonological representations emerge from perception/production interactions and are transformed by the acquisition of literacy, and exploring the neural underpinnings of the perception/production link. Project III focuses on word reading and seeks to provide a theory that, unlike previous theories, accounts for both cross-language and individual differences in reading organization as the consequence of the learning process that attunes a universal neurocognitive mechanism to a linguistic environment. Finally, Project IV represents a new direction for our program, extending our work beyond the word to the processes involved in the comprehension of spoken and written language. One motivation for our move in this direction is to understand why a significant number of children have substantial problems with comprehension despite adequate word level decoding ability and sub-lexical phonological processing. In this project we pursue several hypotheses that are related to our long-standing emphasis on the centrality of the speech code in language: (a) that comprehension difficulties are associated with poorly specified word representations (low lexical quality), (b) that comprehension difficulties in the printed domain will be reflected in the spoken domain as well, (c) that problems with comprehension are due to underlying problems with language specific (and not domain-general) mechanisms such as syntax and semantics, and (d) that poor comprehension is related to difficulty in a specific type of phonological processing: prosody.

NIH Grant RO1 DC-002717 - Links Between Production and Perception in Speech
(Douglas H. Whalen, PI/A93)

Research Goals: The goals are to obtain data to substantiate the claim that speech production and perception are related and to validate the articulatory gesture as the link between production and perception.  The method of inquiry involves attempting to show that those acoustic parameters that vary together as a result of some articulator movement also cohere in perception.

NSF Grant BCS-0966411 - From Endangered Language Documentation to Phonetic Documentation
(D. Whalen, PI/A179)

Research Goals:   The proposed research determines whether satisfactory phonetic documentation can be based on textual materials from a documentation corpus that was not designed for phonetic analysis.  It will then be determined as to how much material (tokens of a sound, number of speakers) is required to have an accurate estimate for the phonetic measures of an entire language.  The study will provide a preliminary phonetic description of three endangered languages and will address a small number of specific phonetic questions in those three languages.  The results will produce recommendations for best practices in language documentation to make future corpora as useful for phonetic analysis as possible. 

NIH Grant RO1 HD-044073 - Subcontract agreement with Vanderbilt University, on a grant entitled Cognitive and Neural Processes in Reading Comprehension (K. Pugh, Co-Investigator/A181)

Research Goals:  The project examines brain and cognitive measures of children with specific comprehension disorders in reading.  Ken Pugh will collaborate on fMRI task development and brain / behavior analyses. 

NIH Grant RO1 HD-065794 - Neurobiological Predictors of Spoken and Written Language Learning
(K. Pugh, PI/A182)

Research Goals:  The project employs multiple neuroimaging methods to test predictive models of individual differences in learning consolidation for: 1) novel spoken and written word learning tasks that vary in demands on component processes relevant to reading, and 2) language and nonlinguistic tasks that systematically examine contributions from those cortical and  subcortical neural systems associated with procedural and declarative memory as a window on basic learning and consolidation deficits in reading disability (RD).  The overarching goal is to develop causal models of the ways in which any one or some combination of, these functional and structural factors might act to impede language and reading-related skill acquisition in RD. 

NIH Grant RO1 DC-009263 - Development of Bimodal Bilingualism
(K. Pugh, PI/A184)

Research Goals:   The proposed project is a subcontract with the University of Connecticut to provide consulting services to Dr. Lillo-Martin of the University’s department of Linguistics.  The study will include testing participants at research fairs in New England, and bimonthly home visits for longitudinal participants, and then transcribing the findings following the conventions established using EUDICO Linguistic Annotator (ELAN) format. 

Haskins Center - Haskins Language and early assessment research network (LEARN)
(J. Preston, J. Irwin, PI/A185)

Research Goals:   The proposed study will focus on developing a scientific understanding of how children acquire language and overcome difficulties in this process.  The goal of this knowledge is translational: to inform and improve educational practice and, to the degree possible, to help prevent language difficulties through early intervention and prediction.

NIH R21 Grant DC-011342 - Neurobiological Signatures of Audiovisual Speech Perception in Children in ASD
(Irwin, PI/A186)

Research Goals:   The proposed study will address a critical problem in the study of autism spectrum disorders (ASD); heterogeneity in language functioning.  The research will study the neural response associated with perception of auditory and audiovisual speech in children with ASD by pairing EEG/ERP and eye-tracking technology to collect perceptual data to identify biomarkers associated with language outcome. 

NIH Grant RO1 HD-067364 - Neurocognitive Determinants of Second Language Literacy Development in Adolescents
(K. Pugh, PI/A187)

Research Goals:  The project comprises a comprehensive investigation of the neurocognitive parameters that affect how adolescents acquire and learn to read a new language.  The project will employ a longitudinal design in which we will recruit cohorts of adolescents ranging from a basic to medium literacy level in a second language (L2) and track skill development with both behavioral and fMRI measures over 24 months.  Cohorts will be recruited in both Israel and the U.S.; thus, each language will serve as both L2 and L1.  Specific aims are 1)To investigate how learning to read in L2 is jointly determined by the linguistic structure of L1 and by individual differences in neurocognitive capacities of the reader; 2)To investigate whether acquiring reading fluency in a second language necessarily depends on acquiring “native-like” neurocognitive markers; 3)To investigate the linguistic and general neurocognitive consequences of learning a new set of statistical regularities in L2.  In addition, a cross-sectional fourth aim contrasts Hebrew vs. Spanish as L1 in order to assess both the generality of findings from Hebrew and investigate the impact of qualitative differences in the underlying linguistic structures of an L1 on neurocognitive indices of reading English.  This research will directly inform theories of second language learning, and holds promise to inform research on optimal approaches to second language curriculum development.    

NIH Grant RO1 DC-012502 - Speech Motor Learning and Sensory Plasticity in Children and Adults
(D. Ostry, PI/A191)

Research Goals:  The proposed studies will focus on the neural substrates of speech motor development in children.  The plan is to use a multi-modal approach that combines advanced psychophysical and neuroimaging techniques.  This will test the idea that patterns of brain activity during task based learning that are related to these measures can be  used to predict durable changes  in functional connectivity that are  observed after the completion of the learning task.  

NSF Grant IIS-1161962 - Multilingual Gestural Models for Robust Language-Independent Speech Recognition
(H. Nam, PI/A193)

Research Goals:  In previous research, great strides were made in developing a gesture-based automatic phone recognition system for American English that shows rubustness to noise and coarticulation.  In this proposal, this previous work will be extended to build a large vocabulary automatic speech recognition system for American English and language-independent gestural models to perform multilingual ASR.

NIH RO1 Grant HD-071988 - Individual Differences in Learning Potential for Language and Literacy
(D. Braze, PI/A195)

Research Goals: The unacceptably high incidence of poor literacy skills among American young people is a public health crisis that is both insufficiently understood and understudied.  Low reading skill in adults is consistently associated with many negative outcomes, including lesser economic success, increased risk of poor mental and physical health, and poor outcomes for offspring (Kutner, et al., 2007; National Institute for Literacy, 2008).  There is a growing appreciation that we urgently need to identify the learning mechanisms for those skills that underlie reading comprehension, and to better understand how they fail in low literacy individuals.  Our focus is on young adults, but not the predominantly middle class university students who are most often the subjects of reading research in this age range, but a far less restrictive community-based sample obtained from adult education programs, community colleges, organizations that serve young people and from the community at large.  Thus, our sample encompasses a wide range of skill levels including many who have or are at risk of dropping out of the educational system after experiencing repeated learning failure.  To date there has been remarkably little direct study of learning processes pertaining to literacy skills and the cognitive abilities that make reading comprehension possible.  Clarifying the connections between learning capacities and literacy skills is essential for gauging potential for remediation.  This project will build on research from our own group and elsewhere showing that poor readers exhibit reliable differences in learning of linguistic and orthographic structure.  An important innovation of the project is its use of experimental learning tasks to determine connections among capacities for learning in several theoretically important domains of linguistic and orthographic structure.  These tasks include probes of (a) learning relationships between sounds of words and word meanings; (b) learning relationships between spellings and word meanings; and critically; (c) learning relationships between sounds and letters; (d) learning for improved efficiency in processing complex syntactic and semantic structures typical of written language.  Individual learning profiles derived from the proposed experiments will be related to scores from a comprehensive test battery indexing capacities that are known to differentiate better from less skilled readers within our study population.  This will allow us to connect to the existing knowledge base on individual differences in reading comprehension.  A second key innovation of the project is to target a large understudied population that is socially and economically important.  Whereas most past studies of individual differences in literacy focus on children at early stages of acquisition, our project focuses on older individuals who are products of our primary and secondary schools but who are in many cases unprepared for further education or the demands of the workplace.  The prevalence of poor readers in our samples allows us to study the outcomes of atypical developmental trajectories, providing important constraints on current theory.  Our research will elucidate mechanisms for the promotion of effective reading skill within this segment of the population.  Thus, through improved understanding learner subtypes, this research speaks to the issue of creating more effective learning environments for low-literacy secondary and post-secondary students.

NIH Grant RO1 HD-075740 - Training-Induced Plasticity in Human Motor and Sensory Systems
(D. Ostry, PI/A196)

Research Goals:  The planned studies focus on the sensorimotor system and explore the idea that training induced changes to the brain spread from the motor to somatosensory areas of the brain and vice versa.  The plan is to address the effects of motor learning on sensory systems and of somatosensory perceptual training on motor systems by using an approach that combines psychophysical, neurophysiological and neuroimaging techniques.  The ability to quantify changes to brain plasticity that accompany both somatosensory training and motor learning may permit a better understanding of the broader effects of neurological rehabilitation on sensorimotor disorders.  Imaging the sensory and motor networks of the brain that are associated with both somatosensory and motor learning may also lead to better diagnoses and tracking of brain neuroplasticity during therapy.  Our approach may aid in the development of neuroscience-based strategies for training and rehabilitation.

NIH Grant RO1 HD-073288 - Retrieval Interference in Skilled and Unskilled Reading Comprehension
(J. Van Dyke, PI/A197)

Research Goals: Poor reading ability has profound cognitive, emotional, and behavioral consequences for the developing child, and—if unremediated—eventually has economic consequences for the adult. Indeed, the 2003 report on Adult Literacy and Life Skills (Statistics Canada & OECD, 2005) estimates that 51% of US adults aged 16-25 can read only simple texts and make only low-level inferences, a level termed “below-basic,” which is insufficient for attaining advanced educational and occupational goals. These statistics point to the need for understanding factors contributing to poor reading ability beyond the single-word level in the adult population. Unfortunately, the bulk of linguistically-based research into sentence and text-level comprehension has emphasized a limited set of general cognitive capacities (especially working memory capacity) as the source of comprehension difficulty, and focused primarily on the college-level population. This proposal brings together findings from three so far unintegrated research communities (memory, adult sentence and discourse processing, and reading disability) and an alternative research sample to create a novel approach towards understanding poor comprehension. The project is built around an architectural framework that emphasizes memory retrieval as the mechanism connecting word-reading skills and higher-level integrative skills.  Building on memory research pointing to a severely limited active memory capacity, even for skilled readers, we assume that comprehension is primarily determined by the successful retrieval of information from passive memory. Thus, in our Specific Aim 1 we investigate the conditions leading to successful retrieval, including the way that different types of linguistic cues (phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic, pragmatic) are combined, and the conditions leading to failed retrieval—namely the presence of memory interference. Our Specific Aim 2 combines long-standing conclusions from memory research, suggesting that sensitivity to interference will be determined by the quality of to-be-retrieved representations, with research in reading disability, arguing that individuals will vary in the average quality of their word representations, which are determined by their reading experience and facility for processing different types of linguistic information. Finally, our Specific Aim 3 investigates the neurological bases of sensitivity to retrieval interference, with primary focus on the neural networks that link skilled word reading to higher level processing, and the contribution of regions responsible for mediating interference at each level, especially left inferior frontal gyrus. In order to have broad impact, we target a community-based sample of mainly non-college-bound individuals (age 16-24), who we believe constitutes a more representative sample of reading ability in the population at large. In addition, recruit a supplemental sample of beginning readers (age 7-9) to investigate the development of retrieval and sensitivity to interference. We expect that this project will result in a new conception of sources of individual variability in reading comprehension, and a deeper understanding of how these develop and persist in the adult population.

NIH Grant R21DC-012350 - Kinematic Patterns of Phonetic Convergence
(M. Tiede, PI/A198)

Research Goals: In this proposal we pioneer a new approach that for the first time supports simultaneous direct observation of speech articulation by two face-to-face talkers, and apply it to studying the mutual adaptation that occurs between them as they interact in conversation. This will lead to improve understanding of the articulatory aspects of foreign accent and suggest possibilities for improving methods of speech remediation and second language instruction

NIH Grant R03DC-013152-01A1 Ultrasound Biofeedback for Therapy-Resistant Speech Sound Disorders in Children
(J. Preston, PI/A201)

Research Goals: This project will foster the development of an intervention for children whose speech sound errors have been resistant to traditional articulation treatment. Ultrasound will be used to provide a visual display of the tongue shape in real time as the child speaks; these images will be used to teach children how to achieve more intelligible articulation. The project will refine the intervention procedures to achieve maximal benefit, determine if different profiles of children with speech sound disorders respond to the intervention, and compare the outcomes of this approach to outcomes achieved with traditional speech therapy.

NSF Grant HD-070837 - Neurocognitive bases of treatment resistance in Developmental dyslexia
(K.Pugh, Georiga State University, A202)

Research Goals:   This project's overarching goal is to provide the first detailed and integrated neurobiological and cognitive characterization of DD treatment resisters, whose relatively intractable impairments are likely to be primarily brain-based. The project addresses inportant developmental questions by comparing younger and older DD children and will similarly study children, using multidimensional framework, that have DD and significant language and/or attentional impairments. A key goal is to develop and test neurocomputational theories in order to examine the relationship between cognitive deficits that impede processing speed and efficiency, memory capacity, learning and consoldation and the underlying differences in brain organization, and their impact on predicting treatment resistance. 

NSF Grant BCS-1355479 - A Common Prosody Platform for Testing Theories and Models of Speech Prosody

(Douglas Whalen, PI/A203)

A Common Prosody Platform (CPP) will be developed to host computational models that implement major theories of prosody. CPP will adapt theory-specific assumptions into computational algorithms that can generate surface prosodic forms, and make all the models trainable through global optimization based on automatic analysis-by-synthesis and stochastic learning. It will allow examination of prosody in much finer detail than is conventionally done. CPP will also be a potentially transformative tool for investigating lesser-known languages for which experimentation may be difficult, and it may lead to major improvements in speech technology, language teaching and diagnosis and the treatment of speech-related disorders.


NIH Grant DC-013864 - Neurobiological Signatures of Perception and Imitation of AV Speech in Children with ASD

(Julia Irwin, PI/A204)

Research Goals: This project examines the neural processes underlying audiovisual speech integration and facial imitation in children with ASD, typically developing children and children with expressive language impairments.


NSF Grant BCS-1360670 - Understanding Prosody and Tone Interactions through Documentation of Two Endangered Languages.

(Christian DiCanio, PI/A205)

Research Goals: This project is to study the interaction of prosody and tone in two highly complex tonal languages: Itunyoso Trique (IT) and Yoloxochitl Mixtec (YM), both Mixtecan languages from eastern central Mexico. Along with the study of prosody and tone, the processes of corpus collection, segmentation, and annotation will address questions of increasing importance in the field of linguistics and the continuing utility of language documentation data for science.


NIH Grant DC-013668 - Improving Clinical Speech Remediation with Ultrasound Technology

(Douglas Whalen, PI/A206)

Subcontract from CUNY Graduate Center


NSF Grant BCS-1435592 - Collaborative Proposal: Effects of Production Variability on the Acoustic Consequences of Coordinated Articulatory Gestures

(Mark Tiede, PI/A207)

Research Goals: This project focuses on understanding and improving the capabilities of the speech inversion system in modeling co-articulation and lenition. Such an approach will not only be able to improve substantially the performance of ASR systems, but could provide key information for speaker recognition systems and for assistive technologies such as pronunciation tools.

Somatosensory Function in Speech Perception

(Vince Gracco, PI /A208)

Research Goals:This project is to study the manner in which somatosensory information may be encoded in speech perception. A computer controlled robotic device will probe the contribution of somatosensation from the facial skin during speech perceptual processing and speech motor learning. This study has the potential to impact theories of speech perception and speech development as well as identifying new avenue for speech learning and rehabilitation.

Retrieval Dynamics and Interference in Anaphoric Resolution: Skilled and Unskilled Readers
(Dave Kush, PI /A209)

Research Goals: This project is to study participants’ abilities to use abstract syntactic information to guide retrieval, as well as, the relation between participants’ cognitive control and inhibition abilities and reading difficulty. The results will provide insight into one of the origins of poor reading ability and will hopefully help inform clinical strategies for remediation.



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