Main research areas

Articulatory Modelling

Cross references:

  • Intonation theory (coordination of articulation and accent)
  • Information structure

 Cooperations:

  • Haskins Labs
  • University of Southern California

Content:

  • How are the articulators tongue tip, tongue body, lips and jaw coordinated during speech production?

Articulaticulatory phonetics and phonology deal with measuring, analysing and modelling speech. The  basic phonological unit is the articulatory gesture as a motion unit. The coordination of gestures can   describe phonological processes. In Cologne we focus on the interaction of prosody and articulation, which manifests in the investigation of prominence marking (focus, givenness), the oral motor skills during syllable production or the synchronization between speech melody and text.

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Intonation theory

Cooperations:

  • Uni Potsdam
  • Uni Malta
  • Uni Edinburgh

Content:

  • Modelling tone and intonation in the framework of autosegmental phonology
  • Form and function of intonation (cross-linguistically)
  • Intonation in German (GToBI)
  • Intonation in Maltese and Maltese-English

"Intonation" is usually described as the melody of human speech. In a broader sense it also covers other phenomena, like accent placement, chunking of utterances into smaller phrases, speech rhythm and tempo. A different term for this broader definition of intonation is "prosody".

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Information Structure

Cross-references:

  • Intonation Theory (Expression of information by means of intonation)
  • Language Acquisition

Cooperations:

  • Germanistik Köln
  • University Mainz
  • University Stuttgart

Contents:

In verbal communication, the speaker structures or wraps the information according to his assumptions about the knowledge of the listener. The speaker encodes parts of an utterance as new or given or as important or unimportant, respectively. For this, the speaker uses mainly morpho-syntactic and prosodic means.

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Experimental Phonology and Phonological Structures

Cross references:

  • Articulatory Modelling

Cooperations:

  • University of Bari
  • Haskins Labs

Content:

Experimental Phonology (also Laboratory Phonology) deals with the empirical validation of phonological questions. The focus is on the connection between a functional-phonological formulation of hypotheses and phonetic practice. For example, the syllable and its constituents (onset, nucleus, coda) can be measured by means of articulation (coordination of consonantal and vocalic gestures on the basis of kinematic data) as a phonological representation.

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Lexical tone and intonation

Cross references:

  • Intonation theory

Cooperations:

  • University of Ottawa
  • ZAS Berlin
  • Institute of Linguistics, Hanoi

Content:

  • Interacton in Vietnamese
  • Discourse structure

The complex tone system of Vietnamese is not only characterized by pitch height (F0) and the tone register, but also by the voice quality. It consists of six contours, two tone registers as well as the interaction between tone and laryngeal features (glottalization, creaky voice and breathiness). The following research questions are being examined in a PhD-project:

  • What prosodic means are being used in everyday telephone calls by speakers of northern Vietnamese?
  • How do lexical tones interact with intonation contours that are involved in conversational functions?
  • Are there cross-language and intercultural differences when using prosody, e.g. in vietnamese vs. german conversations?

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Language acquisition

Cross references:

  • Information structure
  • Motor speech

Cooperations:

  • MPI Leipzig

Content:

Within the scope of a PhD thesis in the area of language acquisition we investigated how children learn intonation and if children use prosody while acquiring a language. The investigation was based on data from production and perception experiments that have been conducted with children aged between 20 months and 5 years.
One aspect of this research project was the question whether a child interprets a sentence like "There is an ELEPHANT!" in a way that "Elephant" is new and not given. Does the child understand that the accent refers to the referent that has not been mentioned before? And do children use the prosodic (newness) marking and the newness of a referent in order to relate the referent to the lexical term?

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Motor Speech

Cross references:

  • Language acquisition

Cooperations:

  • University Hospital Köln
  • MPI Köln

Content:

Articulation requires a very fast and precisely coordinated use of more than one hundred muscles. A broad bi-hemispheric network of motoric and sensoric brain areas navigates speech production seemingly effortless. The complexity of this process becomes apparent when we learn a new language or when articulation is impaired by a neurological disease (dysarthria).

In this project the learning process for new phoneme combinations is investigated. For this, recordings include  articulatory and acoustic measures as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Changes of brain activity in the neural speech network during learning are captured by MRI and correlated with phonetically proven learning progress. The training interval is long and intensive in order to be able to compare early learning stages with later stages where an automaticity of pronounciation has been reached. Exemplarily, the phoneme combinations that are being investigated are wordinitial voiced consonant clusters, as these phoneme combinations assure a new coordination of laryngeal and oral movements that are not easy to acquire by native speakers of german.

The results of this research will be used for developing more efficient therapies for dysarthria.

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