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Speech processing and language acquisition

General details of the subject

Face-to-face degree course

Description and contextualization of the subject

Main concepts in speech processing; Classic phenomena; Models of speech perception; Language Acquisition; Infant research methods; Development of speech perception; Statistical learning of word boundaries; LA in adults: Second language acquisition

Teaching staff

NameInstitutionCategoryDoctorTeaching profileAreaE-mail
CAUDRELIER , TIPHAINEBCBL- Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and
KALASHNIKOVA , MARINABCBL- Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and
STOEHR , ANTJEBCBL- Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and


CE1. Advanced knowledge of speech perception and language aquisition25.0 %
CE2. Main research techniques of speech perception and language aquisition25.0 %
CE3. Evaluating research processes and products in speech perception and language aquisition25.0 %
CE4. Relating the course content to areas of intervention, problems and demands of social and cultural contexts.25.0 %

Study types

TypeFace-to-face hoursNon face-to-face hoursTotal hours
Applied classroom-based groups101020
Applied computer-based groups102535

Assessment systems

NameMinimum weightingMaximum weighting
Practical tasks50.0 % 50.0 %
Presentations50.0 % 50.0 %


Part I

The goal of this course is to understand how young infants (between 0 to 24 months) crack the speech code and begin to acquire their native language(s). We will discuss how domain-general learning mechanisms that are already present during the first few months of life (e.g., distributional, categorical, or statistical learning) interact with the acquisition of different linguistic levels (e.g., learning phonetic categories, words, syntax). In addition, we will cover the roles of innate auditory biases, such as sensitivity to linguistic and non-linguistic rhythms during acquisition. Further, we will consider the interaction between functional/structural brain maturation and language development in the first two years of life. Throughout the class, a special focus will be given to bilingual first language acquisition, in addition to monolingual acquisition. Moreover, we will focus on the process of the second language acquisition and phonological development in second language acquisition.

Part II

This course aims to describe the processes involved in recognising words in normal-hearing, adult listeners. In the first part of the course, we look at articulatory and acoustic-phonetic representations of the speech signal, on go on to examine the transformations of speech that occur up to the level of the auditory nerve. The second part investigates the link between sounds and words, presents recent computational models of spoken word recognition, and addressing the challenge of variability. In the final part we look at speech pereption in everyday 'non-ideal' conditions.


Compulsory materials

For part I, no specific textbooks are required. Discussions will be based on seminal and recent research articles. For part II, while no single textbook covers the course, the following book will be useful for much of the material:

i. Anne Cutler (2012). Native Listening. MIT Press.

Basic bibliography

Fowler, C. A. (1996). Listeners do hear sounds, not tongues. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 99, 1730-1741.

Ganong, W.F. (1980). Phonetic categorization in auditory word perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 6, 110-125.

Hoff, E. (2004) Language Development (3ed) Wadsworth/Thomson Learning Press

Johnson, E. K., & Jusczyk, P. W. (2001). Word Segmentation by 8-Month-Olds: When Speech Cues Count More Than Statistics. Journal of Memory and Language, 44(4), 548-567. doi:10.1006/jmla.2000.2755

Kuhl, P. K. (2004). Early language acquisition: cracking the speech code. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 5(11), 831-843. doi:10.1038/nrn1533

Kuhl, P. K., Williams, K., Lacerda, F., Stevens, K., & Lindblom, B. (1992). Linguistic experience alters phonetic perception in infants by 6 months of age. Science, 255(5044), 606-608. doi:10.1126/science.1736364

Ladefoged (2001) Vowels and Consonants

Liberman, A.M., Harris, K. S., Hoffman, H.S. & Griffith, B. C. (1957). The discrimination of speech sounds within and across phoneme boundaries. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 54, 358-368.

Liberman, A. M. (1996). Introduction: Some assumptions about speech and how they changed. In A. M. Liberman (Ed.), Speech: A special code. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Liberman,, A. M., Cooper, F.. S., Shankweiler, D. P., and Studdert-Kennedy, M. (1967). Perception of the speech code. Psychological Review, 74, 431-461.

Liberman, A. M. and Whalen, D. H. (2000). On the relation of speech to language. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4, 187-196.

Rosenblum, L. D., Schmuckler, M. A., and Johnson, J. A. (1997). The McGurk effect in infants. Perception & Psychophysics, 59, 347-357.

Samuel, A.G. (in press). Speech perception. Annual Review of Psychology 62, 16.1-16.24.

Stager, C. L., & Werker, J. F. (1997). Infants listen for more phonetic detail in speech perception than in word-learning tasks. Nature, 388(6640), 381-382. doi:10.1038/41102

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