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Speech, Language & Health

The Speech Language and Communication programme is interdisciplinary in nature and links Speech & Language Therapy, Psychology, Computing, Creative Technology & Engineering, Education & Childhood, and Languages. The programme will address the following general questions:

  • What is communication and how is it shaped by the environment in which it occurs?
  • How does communication affect learning, behaviour change, and social relationships?
Areas of research include: communication impairment and disorders, monolingual & bilingual language acquisition, speech language & communication needs in marginal communities, social interaction online, conflict resolution, learning & behaviour change, speech processing & modelling, and embodied communication.

For further details please contact the Programme Leaders:

 Current Projects

Enhancing communication and intelligibility in dysarthria

Dr Nicole Whitworth, Dr John Elliott, Dr Nick Cope, Prof Reinhold Behringer, Prof Andrew Slade

The aim of this project is to apply and develop current knowledge of speech and gesture processing to produce an augmented and alternative communication (AAC) device which permits speech impaired users to communicate effectively and naturally in different environments.

With the incidence of medium to severe communication difficulties likely to increase due to an increasingly older population and the associated increase in the prevalence of acquired speech pathologies, e.g. as a result of stroke or neurodegenerative diseases, it is important to ensure persons affected by these are able to maintain their independence and are able to fully participate in society. The beneficiaries of this project are therefore individuals with dysarthria, their families and social networks, and health care providers.

An ecological approach to linguistic information

Agnes Henson

I am interested in attempting to consider how we might begin to investigate language behaviours in humans from a Radical Embodied Cognitive Science Perspective (RECS) and probe linguistic information’s place on the spectrum of resources in the service of human behaviour. My project aims to characterise language perception and competence without recourse to traditional models of representation and computation, using a theoretical approach which is gaining traction in many other areas in Psychology. Research questions I will be looking at include probing the mechanisms by which language influences behaviour and how the information available in speech signals facilitate second language acquisition.

Evaluating the effects of an intensive primary school singing programme

Dr Susan Atkinson, Dr Nina Martin, Tracey Marsh, Dr Sabrina Golonka

The purpose of this research is to investigate the effects of a regular structured singing programme on the academic achievement and motivation of primary school children. Existing research suggests that music lessons are beneficial to children: possible benefits include increasing musical skill, and improvements to self-esteem, confidence, motivation, and academic performance. The research questions we are addressing are:

  • Is the work the children are doing in singing lessons having an impact on their progress in school?
  • Does singing have an effect on self-esteem and motivation?
The results of this study will be of relevance to schools, parents and educators.

Early vocalisations and pre-language in babies with Down syndrome

Dr Nicole Whitworth & Monica Bray

The study investigates how vocalisations in children with Down syndrome (DS) change over the early months in order to understand how early words emerge. The onset of first words in Down syndrome is usually delayed, with a suggested ‘average’ of around 3 years of age and with only a very small percentage of early words being intelligible. A better understanding of the development of speech in Down syndrome will inform speech and language therapy as well as provide insights into the acquisition of speech production in general. The aims of our study are:

  • to provide descriptive auditory and acoustic data from two children with Down syndrome looking at change over a two and a half year period from initial vocalisations at 12 months to early word production at 40 months
  • to consider some of the factors which might mitigate against an easy transition into word production.
The research will contribute to our understanding of language acquisition in DS and inform speech and language therapy practice. As such, it will benefit people with Down Syndrome and their families, speech and language therapists and those working in related clinical and educational settings. In addition, the results will be relevant to researchers in the field of language acquisition.

Strategies in the acquisition of new vowel contrasts in adult learners

Dr Nicole Whitworth

This project examines how adult learners acquire new sound categories by investigating the strategies students use to learn cardinal vowels which are a set of reference vowels that circumscribe the space in which vowels are produced in the human vocal tract. As Cardinal Vowels are not as such exist in any language, learners will have to learn to produce and perceive sounds that can be either similar or dissimilar to vowels with which they are already familiar. In addition, students have to acquire altogether new vowel contrasts. The study aims to answer the following questions:

  • What are the strategies that students adopt to master the perception and production of cardinal vowels?
  • Do the auditory, articulatory and acoustic properties affect students’ approach to and success in the learning task?
The results of this study will contribute to our understanding of sound learning and will have implications for the  teaching and learning of languages and practical phonetics. It may also shed light on the nature and development of sound systems. The results will be developed into best practice guides for teaching new sound  categories for use in the teaching of clinical and non-clinical phonetics on linguistics and modern languages courses.