MSE 2701: Sounds of Human Language

Understanding the Science of Speech

Fall 2020


Course Information

Course Description

How do you turn sounds into language? This course explores the sounds used in spoken language and how we use speech to communicate with each other. We will discuss how speech varies between talkers, dialects, and languages, and we will study the mechanisms that listeners use to recognize speech. We will also explore how the brain processes language, how infants and children learn to understand speech, and how research on spoken language helps to inform work in other areas. The course also provides an in depth study of the techniques used to study speech perception, as well as the major theoretical debates that have informed work in this field.

Objectives

Throughout the course, we will explore concepts and techniques used in the scientific study of human speech, including how speech sounds are produced, learned, and perceived. We will examine a number of topics, including questions about language acquisition, how the brain processes speech, and how speech sounds vary between languages. In addition to learning content, the course includes a number of objectives related to understanding the scientific process:

Course Materials

All required reading material will be posted on the course website. I have prepared a set of background readings that provide an introduction to the topics we will be discussing, and there are several research articles we will read during the semester. Be sure to read this material before class! I have endeavored to keep the background readings short to help you keep up with them. We will discuss the readings in class, so come prepared with any questions you have. Please also come see me during my office hours if you would like to discuss the readings further.

Computer Requirements

Because of the hybrid format of the course this semester, you will need a laptop. There are no specific hardware or software requirements (just make sure you can run Zoom), but please let me know if you do not have access to a laptop that you can bring to class and use outside of class. I am happy to work with you to come up with an alternative.

Course Requirements

Assessments

Grades will be based on a combination of exams, class participation, and lab activities. These assessments are designed to provide you with an opportunity to use what you've learned in class and in the lab to make arguments based on evidence, to take a stance on debates in the field, and to demonstrate your technical skills. Grades will be based on points earned for each assessment. If you have any concerns about meeting the requirements for any component of the course, please let me know so we can discuss it.

Assessment Points Grade percentage
Exams (60%) Midterm 1 48 pts 15%
Midterm 2 48 pts 15%
Final exam (cumulative) 96 pts 30%
Participation (15%) Student-led discussion 32 pts 10%
Response journal 16 pts 5%
Lab activities (25%) Lab reports 50 pts 15.6%
Final project 30 pts 9.4%

Grading Scale

A-...90.00-93.32% A...>93.32%
B-...80.00-83.32% B...83.33-86.66% B+...86.67-89.99%
C-...70.00-73.32% C...73.33-76.66% C+...76.67-79.99%
D-...60.00-63.32% D...63.33-66.66% D+...66.67-69.99%
F...<60.00%

Exams

There will be three exams (two non-cumululative midterms and a cumulative final exam). The goal of the exams is to demonstrate your understanding of the concepts covered in class, apply the scientific principles you have learned, and take a stance on current debates in the field, backing up your claims with evidence. Questions will be drawn from material presented in class discussions and lab, as well as material presented in articles and background readings. Additional details about the format of the exams will be presented in class.

You may request a make-up exam if you have an authorized University absence/ Excused absences are described in the University's official Attendance Policy. Please speak to me in person if you have an authorized absence that requires you to make-up a scheduled exam.

Participation

Format of the class. The classroom component of the course is discussion-based. As a result, you will get the most out of the course if you keep up with the readings and come to class ready to participate. In order to maintain social distancing, the class will meet separately in two groups (see Course Information above). On days when you are scheduled to meet in small groups, you will join your fellow students via Zoom to discuss the readings. On days when you are scheduled to be in class, we will meet in person and discuss the readings together. The schedule is arranged so that you will have an opportunity to discuss the topics with both your group members and the entire class. These discussions form the core of the course, and notes from class and group meetings will be used as the basis for exams. Therefore, it is very important to keep up with the readings and attend all class sessions. Please arrive on time and contribute to class discussions and activities. If you must miss class, I will be happy to meet with you to go over any material you would like. Just send me a message.

Student-led discussions. Each discussion will be led by myself and several student experts (that's you!). You will have an opportunity to select which topics you would like to lead the discussion of on the first day of class. You do not need to meet with the other discussion leaders before class (but you are welcome to if you want!). Each student should be prepared to contribute to the discussion of the reading, including experiments described in the reading, as well as how the data fit with one or more broader theories of speech perception and language processing. Each discussion leader should contribute to presenting their thoughts and guiding the discussion in their group and in class. Everyone else is encouraged to participate in the discussion as well. It's okay if there are things in the reading you don't understand—that's why we discuss the material together. I am also happy to meet with you before class to answer any questions. If you must miss class for some reason on a day you are scheduled to lead discussion, please meet with me to make up the work.

Journals. One of the key themes of this class is learning to ask and answer questions scientifically. In addition to asking questions in our class discussions, another way to practice this skill is with a response journal. I will leave a few minutes at the end of each class to complete this assignment. You may be asked to respond to specific questions, to summarize the key points of the day’s lecture, or to discuss questions you still have on the topic. I will review the journals before each class, and we will have an opportunity to discuss any questions you had at the beginning of the next class.

Lab assignments

There will be regular laboratory meetings during the semester. These meetings are designed to give you hands-on experience with the tools used by scientists to study speech. There will be a series of lab exercises that you will complete over the course of the semester, as well as a final project. Details for each lab exercise will be given in laboratory meetings and will be available on the course website. The exercises are designed to build on each other, so the techniques you learn from the first exercise will be useful for the second one, and so on. Ultimately, the skills you learn in the lab will be used to complete your final project.

Lab reports. Following each of the lab exercises, you will write a short lab report detailing what you found in the lab. Your lab report should be written as a summary of what you accomplished during the lab activity. It is purposefully left open-ended so that you can describe your results in the way you think is best. We will discuss how to write a lab report together in class.

Final lab project. The final project will combine what you have learned in class discussions with the skills covered in laboratory meetings throughout the semester. The goal of the final project is to use what you have learned to design, run, and analyze the results of a new experiment. This experiment can take many different forms. Examples will be provided, but you should feel free to think outside the box. Critically, you must: (1) base your experiment on some previous findings about the sounds of language, (2) present a clear hypothesis, (3) collect the data necessary to test your hypothesis, and (4) analyze and report the results. You will turn in a write-up of the experiment, and present your results to the class during the last lab meeting of the semester. More details on the project will be provided later in the semester.

Course Policies

Standard Villanova Course Policies

Course-specific Policies

Extra credit

You should have received an email about an opportunity for you to earn extra credit if you would like to participate in a research study as part of the course (please let me know if you did not receive the email). If you do not wish to participate in the study, you can also earn the extra credit by completing the assginment here: Extra credit assignment


Section 001 Course Schedule

Note: SoHL = Sounds of Human Language background readings. Link to the entire book.

Lab reports are due one week after completing the lab activity.


Date Topic Reading Lab Assignments (Group 1) Lab Assignments (Group 2)
8/18 Introduction (in-person)
8/20 Acoustics (Zoom) SoHL: Acoustics
8/25 Acoustics (in-person) Lab 1 (in-person)
8/27 Phonetics (Zoom) SoHL: Phonetics
9/1 Phonetics (in-person) IPA chart with English examples
IPA transcription practice
Real-time MRI IPA chart
Speech synthesis demo
(Zoom) Lab 1 (in-person)
9/3 Cross-linguistic Differences (Zoom) Tucker & Wright (2020)
9/8 Cross-linguistic Differences (in-person) Lab 2 (in-person) (Zoom)
9/10 Accents and Dialects (Zoom) SoHL: Variability in Speech;
Clopper and Pisoni (2004)
9/15 Accents and Dialects (in-person) Purnell et al. (1999) Lab 3 (Zoom) Lab 2 (in-person)
9/17 Bilingualism (Zoom) Marian and Shook (2012)
9/22 Debate: Bilingual Advantage (in-person) de Bruin et al. (2015) Lab 4 (in-person) Lab 3 (Zoom)
9/24 Unit 1 Summary and Exam Review Exam questions from Fall 2019
9/29 EXAM 1 (Zoom) Lab 4 (in-person)
10/1 Speech Perception (Zoom) SoHL: Categorical Perception
10/6 Speech Perception (in-person) Strand & Johnson (1996)
10/8 Context Effects (Zoom) SoHL: Context Effects
10/13 Debate: Interactivity in Speech Perception McClelland et al. (2006)
McQueen et al. (2006)
Lab 5 Lab 5
10/15 Neuroscience of Language (Zoom) SoHL: Neurobiology of Speech Perception
10/20 Neuroscience of Language (in-person) Getz & Toscano (2020)
10/22 Language Development (Zoom) SoHL: Speech Development
10/27 Language Development (in-person) Shneidman & Goldin-Meadow (2012)
10/29 Unit 2 Summary and Exam Review
11/3 EXAM 2
11/5 Hearing Loss (Zoom) SoHL: Hearing Loss
11/10 Debate: Language Processing in Deaf and Hearing Subjects Neville et al. (1998)
Hickok et al. (1998)
11/12 TBD
11/17 Unit 3 Summary and Exam Review Lab project due Lab project due
11/19 No class
TBD FINAL EXAM

Section 002 Course Schedule

Note: SoHL = Sounds of Human Language background readings. Link to the entire book.

Lab reports are due one week after completing the lab activity.


Date Topic Reading Lab Assignments (Group 1) Lab Assignments (Group 2)
8/18 No class
8/20 Introduction (in-person)
8/25 Acoustics (Zoom) SoHL: Acoustics
8/27 Acoustics (in-person) Lab 1 (in-person)
9/1 Phonetics (Zoom) SoHL: Phonetics
9/3 Phonetics (in-person) IPA chart with English examples
IPA transcription practice
Real-time MRI IPA chart
Speech synthesis demo
(Zoom) Lab 1 (in-person)
9/8 Cross-linguistic Differences (Zoom) Tucker & Wright (2020)
9/10 Cross-linguistic Differences (in-person) Lab 2 (in-person) (Zoom)
9/15 Accents and Dialects (Zoom) SoHL: Variability in Speech;
Clopper and Pisoni (2004)
9/17 Accents and Dialects (in-person) Purnell et al. (1999) Lab 3 (Zoom) Lab 2 (in-person)
9/22 Bilingualism (Zoom) Marian and Shook (2012)
9/24 Debate: Bilingual Advantage (in-person) de Bruin et al. (2015) Lab 4 (in-person) Lab 3 (Zoom)
9/29 Unit 1 Summary and Exam Review Exam questions from Fall 2019
10/1 EXAM 1 (Zoom) Lab 4 (in-person)
10/6 Speech Perception (Zoom) SoHL: Categorical Perception
10/8 Speech Perception (in-person) Strand & Johnson (1996)
10/13 Context Effects (Zoom) SoHL: Context Effects
10/15 Debate: Interactivity in Speech Perception McClelland et al. (2006)
McQueen et al. (2006)
Lab 5 Lab 5
10/20 Neuroscience of Language (Zoom) SoHL: Neurobiology of Speech Perception
10/22 Neuroscience of Language (in-person) Getz & Toscano (2020)
10/27 Language Development (Zoom) SoHL: Speech Development
10/29 Language Development (in-person) Shneidman & Goldin-Meadow (2012)
11/3 Unit 2 Summary and Exam Review
11/5 EXAM 2
11/10 Hearing Loss (Zoom) SoHL: Hearing Loss
11/12 Debate: Language Processing in Deaf and Hearing Subjects Neville et al. (1998)
Hickok et al. (1998)
11/17 TBD
11/19 Unit 3 Summary and Exam Review Lab project due Lab project due
TBD FINAL EXAM