Current Projects

[Image Description: Buffalo, New York.  Canalside Boardwalk.  Flags of white and lime green line the edge of the board walk next to the water.]

Sub-Segmental Variability in Preschoolers’ Speech


Work on Childhood Apraxia of Speech, a childhood Speech Sound Disorder (SSD) said to occur at the oral-motor planning stage of speech production, has yet to provide specific quantitative or qualitative diagnostic features unique to the disorder.  A few studies have looked at the production variation that occurs lower than the segment in terms of featural analyses, however most have not controlled for interactions with syllable shape, a very important factor in terms of timing oral speech gestures.

The study identifies three main questions.  The first, are children with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) more consistent in their errors at a sub-segmental level than at a segmental or word level? The second, are there differences in error types not just quantity of errors between children with different Speech Sound Disorders?  And lastly, can these two questions provide criteria to separate children with Childhood Apraxia of Speech from those with other Speech Sound Disorder?  I hope to address these questions by eliciting words and non-words in a repetition task from various typical and disordered children ages 3-5.

Who Said That?

Child Development; Social Cognition; Race; Speech Perception

There is a lot you can gather about me from listening to the way I speak, far beyond just the words I say.  You might be picking up on the fact I say ‘soda’ instead of ‘pop’ which means I’m either not a native Buffalonian, or I’m a little contrarian; that I have a certain vocal quality that indicates… mmm, probably female?  You might be able to tell from my tone or my intonation that I am not happy you forgot to do your dishes again.  As adults we seem to do this with (more or less) no problem at all.  But many of the things I mentioned require a lot of world knowledge and a lot of learning about the social world and its categories, begging the question what do kids know about these things?

In recent years, it has become clear that successful comprehension of spoken language involves the integration of both types of information (Borovsky & Creel, 2014). This raises the question of how children learn to process speaker’s voices. Research in this domain has revealed an early sensitivity to speaker-specific cues (DeCasper & Fifer 1980; Johnson et al., 2011), but it is unclear what (if any) inferences young children might draw about the speaker based on voice information alone.

To address this question, we examined children’s mapping of unfamiliar voices to faces.  In particular, we asked whether children might use speakers’ accents to infer their race. Previous work has shown that by the preschool age, children use both accent and race to make social judgments (Kinzler et al., 2007; 2011).  But when and how do children start tracking the probabilistic relationships between accent and race?  When do they realize that a Mandarin-accent is more highly correlated with an east Asian than a Caucasian face?