Research

PROCESSING TALKER VARIATIONS

In an increasingly globalized world, accent and dialect normalization is becoming more and more necessary. Understanding how this develops is consequently of great importance, and is an area that has been understudied. One main theme in my research is the investigation of how children process speaker variations, including different dialects.

My work takes a  cross-cultural approach by comparing children from different linguistic backgrounds and cultures. I have been examining language comprehension in Singaporean children (growing up in a multi-lingual and multi-dialectal society) and American children (being raised in predominantly monolingual homes). Some of the research questions that I have focused on include: (i) Do variations in the rhythm of their language influence children’s language comprehension? (ii) Do children’s previous linguistic exposure influence their ability to generalize across dialects?

PROCESSING SPEECH IN NOISE

Listeners of different ages often find themselves in noisy settings where they are spoken to in the context of competing sound. Examining language processing under these circumstances, therefore, has great relevance to everyday life. I am interested in investigating whether there are factors or abilities that develop as a result of a life expeirence (e.g., growing up with two languages) that facilitate auditory stream segregation and processing of speech in noise.

Most infants around the world, and many in the USA, are raised learning two languages.  Recent research suggests that growing up bilingual leads to cognitive benefits. Bilinguals show advantages during tasks that rely on short-term memory (involved in the temporary holding of information) and attention (necessary for selecting and inhibiting different forms of information). However, bilinguals’ language and vocabulary development differs from that of monolinguals, and as a result they are sometimes misidentified as having language disorders. Most studies have examined ways in which bilinguals are better or worse than monolinguals. However, it is possible that bilinguals simply approach tasks differently, which leads to advantages in some tasks and disadvantages in others. My research examines whether differences in language exposure (monolingual vs. bilingual) and age influence individuals’ ability to learn and comprehend words in in difficult listening conditions (e.g., when speech is heard in the presence of background noise).

PROCESSING WORDS IN SENTENCE CONTEXTS

Parents’ speech to children contains a combination of single- and multi-word utterances. There is evidence suggesting that young children process words in sentences differently than words that are heard in isolation. I am very interested in better understanding why this might be. One possibility is that children might be relying on the meaning of sentential-frames during comprehension. Another possibility is that cues such as prosody “highlight” where a word will occur.

I have been examining these hypotheses both in English monolingual and in Spanish-English bilingual infants. Bilingual children receive more “complex” input (including speech that contains code-switching). Therefore, it is important to understand whether they show the same sentence-context effects that have been identified with monolinguals.