Melissa Redford

Melissa Redford

dates de séjour

12/09/2016 - 14/07/2017






University of Oregon, Linguistics Department, College of Arts and Sciences

pays d'origine


projet de recherche

14 Phonemes per Second

The title of this project refers to the speed at which adults speak. The number was first put forward by Lenneberg (1967), and has come to stand for the marvelous and intriguing complexity of fluent speech production. This is because, after quantifying speech rate, Lenneberg went on to describe the many muscles involved in speech articulation. All told, he estimated that 14 phonemes per second amounts to “an order of magnitude of several hundred (muscular) events every second (p. 92).” Speaking is a stunning feat of skilled action. The question that motivates the proposed project is: how do we manage this feat? The consensus is that it requires some kind of hierarchical control structure. Existing theories of production tend to borrow the representational aspects of this structure from theories that linguists have developed to describe language patterns efficiently. This move introduces a non-trivial translation problem. How exactly does one get from highly abstract, highly structured linguistic representation to fluid control over speech movement? The best psycholinguistic models tackle this problem, but the effort is post hoc. We also cannot rely solely on what is known about speech motor control since the research in this area has focused on sound production and, very often, on the production of a single segment. This focus misses the intentional aspect of speaking; that is, the fact that speaking is about communicating information to a listener. A new approach is needed, and it must be interdisciplinary. The proposed project is to provide an account of speaking that ties the representations guiding speech movement to speech motor skills, planning routines to cognitive processes, and speaking to language. The hypothesis is that the representations and routines that govern speaking emerge with communicative goal achievement over developmental time, where goal achievement is constrained by changing speech motor and cognitive skills. I am applying for a European Institutes for Advanced Study (EURIAS) Fellowship to pursue this hypothesis in a book length manuscript that will describe a developmentally sensitive model of speech-language production. The proposed book will draw from a variety of literatures, including the literature on non-language motor skill acquisition and control, speech motor skill development, memory and planning in language production, the development of relevant cognitive processes, language acquisition, and linguistic theory. The goal is to arrange the findings from disparate fields into a coherent account of speaking that is psychologically plausible, developmentally sensitive, and computationally implementable. A further goal is to construct the model so that it is compatible with the neuropsychological literature on speech-language. This goal reflects my future aspiration to investigate brain-°©‐behavior relationships in the development of speech-language production. To this end, I am applying for residency at 3 participating institutes that offer rich, interdisciplinary intellectual environments and substantial opportunity to engage with and learn from researchers working on brain-language relationships.