Lab News

LDL Wins Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award!

We are thrilled to announce that the Language Development Lab (LDL) has been awarded the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2024 for our project titled “The Sound of Silence: A Journey Through Deaf Culture in Hong Kong.” This prestigious award recognizes outstanding research projects that demonstrate exceptional knowledge exchange between the University and the broader community.

Led by Youngah, the LDL team has been working collaboratively with various Deaf community organizations for the past few years. This project aimed to document, preserve, and promote Hong Kong Sign Language (HKSL), while also fostering understanding and inclusivity between the Deaf and hearing communities.

Highlights of the Project’s Impact:

  • Technological Advancement: Developed a HKSL detection model, laying the groundwork for future sign language detection systems.
  • Educational Impact: Fostered new hearing HKSL users through an inclusive HKSL curriculum for hearing students in collaboration with Deaf educators.
  • Social Impact: Created a comprehensive video archive of HKSL signs, combining naturalistic and structured data.
  • Cultural Impact: Supported the production of a documentary film, “Bridge of Signs,” exploring the experiences of the Deaf community and the vital role of HKSL in Deaf identity.
  • Welfare Impact: HKSL-trained volunteers provided essential first aid services at Deaf community sporting events.

Overall, this project has made significant strides in:

  • Documenting HKSL and its unique visual characteristics
  • Preserving HKSL and the intangible Deaf culture
  • Facilitating HKSL learning for hearing students
  • Promoting a sense of ownership and legitimacy of HKSL within the Deaf community
  • Bridging the communication gap between the Deaf and hearing communities

The LDL team is incredibly proud of this achievement and the positive impact this project has had on the Deaf community in Hong Kong. We are committed to continuing our research and outreach efforts to ensure the vibrancy and accessibility of HKSL.

Further details on the project, including its methodology, findings, and beneficiaries, can be found on the KE Awards webpage: Faculty KE Awards

Project team members

(In no particular order)

  • Dr Youngah DO
  • Dr Arthur THOMPSON
  • Dr Robert Marcelo SEVILLA
  • Wing Cheung Aaron CHIK
  • Lihui Frank TAN
  • Shuang ZHENG
  • Chuwen Joanna CHEN
  • Fei Peng Kevin CHEN
  • Pui Ching Rachel CHEN
  • Yu Hei Hannah CHUNG
  • Clarissa KI
  • Xin Olivia LIANG
  • Chui Yin Judy NG
  • Yu On Mavies NGAI
  • Wing Tsun Jeff YIP

The Department of Linguistics at HKU has collaborated with the following parties for this project (in no particular order):

  • Professional Sign Language Training Centre
  • Point Line Mean!
  • Hong Kong Arts Development Council
  • Hong Kong, China Sports Association of the Deaf
  • Hong Kong St John Ambulance
Lab News Publication

“Tracking phonological regularities” published on Linguistics Vanguard

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new research article titled “Tracking phonological regularities: exploring the influence of learning mode and regularity locus in adult phonological learning” in the journal Linguistics Vanguard. The paper, authored by Xiaoyu, Thomas, Frank, Albert, and Youngah, investigates the ways adults learn phonological patterns in language.

Front matter of the paper "Tracking phonological regularities".

The study focused on the concept of regularity tracking, where learners subconsciously identify and utilize consistent patterns within a language system. The researchers examined how two factors – the learner’s approach (goal-oriented vs. exploratory) and the type of regularity (phonotactics vs. alternation) – influence this process.

Participants were tasked with acquiring vowel harmony rules for forming plurals in an experimental language. Across four conditions, researchers manipulated both the learning approach (whether participants were explicitly given a learning goal) and the type of regularity present in the language (phonotactics governed vowel selection vs. random vowel alternations).

The study’s key finding is that learners exhibited a stronger preference for identifying regularities when they had no explicit learning goal and when the language contained random alternations. This suggests that statistical learning mechanisms – which underlie our ability to unconsciously pick up on patterns – are influenced by the level of uncertainty in the learning environment and the nature of the regularity itself. Learners seem to be more sensitive to avoiding irregularities, particularly when the structure of the language itself is unpredictable. The findings overall suggest that learning strategies and the inherent structure of the language itself play a role in shaping how learners identify and utilize regularities within phonological patterns.

Yu, X., Van Hoey, T., Tan, F., Du, B. & Do, Y. (2024). Tracking phonological regularities: exploring the influence of learning mode and regularity locus in adult phonological learning. Linguistics Vanguard. open_in_newDOI file_download PDF

Lab News

Presenting at LabPhon19 @ Seoul

Our lab members recently presented in the recent LabPhon19 conference, held from June 27th to 29th, 2024, in Seoul, South Korea. The conference theme was “Where speech sounds meet the architecture of the grammar and beyond.” We presented findings from three distinct areas of investigation: phonetic substance in language learning, tonal representation in Hakka dialects, and the influence of naturalness bias on phonological variation.

Poster Presentations

  • Phonetic substance in alternation learning: This study by Ivy and Youngah investigated how learners acquire grammatical and sound patterns in different domains. The results suggest that while both domains involve structural complexity and naturalness as learning biases, these biases play a stronger role in phonological learning, particularly when the target pattern is complex and unnatural.
  • Syllable-based or Word-based? Representation of tones undergoing merger in Hakka: Ming and Jon explored how native speakers of Wangmudu Hakka represent tones in their minds. Their findings suggest that for tones undergoing merger, speakers rely on word-level representations rather than syllable-level or generalized sandhi rules.
  • The acquisition, contact, and transmission of phonological variation: Xiaoyu, Samuel, Thomas, Bingzi, Frank, Stephen, Wayne and Youngah examined how biases influence phonological variation learning in different language learning contexts. Their results suggest that a bias towards phonetically natural patterns guides learning in acquisition and contact situations, but not necessarily during language transmission.

Corpus Workshop Presentation

  • Attention-LSTM Autoencoder for Phonotactics Learning from Raw Audio Input: Frank and Youngah presented a study on how a neural network model can learn phonotactic knowledge from raw audio data. Their model, designed to mimic early stages of infant language learning, successfully captured the influence of surrounding sounds on the pronunciation of stops following a sibilant fricative in English.
Frank, Xiaoyu, Ivy, Youngah, Jon and Ming enjoying a meal in Seoul.
Lab News Publication

“Vividness of Mandarin ABB Words”: LangCog

The latest LDL research article titled “What ratings and corpus data reveal about the vividness of Mandarin ABB words” has been published in the journal Language and Cognition. This research was conducted by members of our laboratory, Thomas (currently at KU Leuven), Xiaoyu, Youngah, in collaboration with PAN Tung-le from National Taiwan University.

The journal article.

The goal of this study was to understand the vividness of Mandarin ABB words. ABB words are a type of phrasal compound in Mandarin, consisting of a prosaic syllable A and a reduplicated BB part, resulting in a vivid phrasal compound.

The researchers collected subjective ratings regarding familiarity, iconicity, imagery/imageability, concreteness, sensory experience rating (SER), valence, and arousal for Mandarin ABB words. They contrasted these ratings with two other sets of prosaic word ratings to understand the distinctive role of variables that characterize ABB words.

The findings revealed that the variable that characterizes ABB items consistently throughout these case studies is their high score for imageability, showing that they are indeed rightfully characterized as vivid. The study also demonstrated the importance of contrasting rating data with other comparable datasets of a different phenomenon or data about the same phenomenon compiled in an ontologically different manner.

Van Hoey, T., Yu, X., Pan, T.-L., & Do, Y. (2024). What ratings and corpus data reveal about the vividness of Mandarin ABB words. Language and Cognition, 1–23. open_in_newDOI

Knowledge Exchange 2023 (Hong Kong Sign Language) Lab News

LDL Student RAs Foster Cross-Cultural Communication at “Point Line Mean” Exhibition

Student Research Assistants from the University of Hong Kong’s Language Development Lab immerse themselves in the world of Deaf and Hearing artists at the Point Line Mean Exhibition.

As part of the Knowledge Exchange project on Hong Kong Sign Language, our Student Research Assistants (SRAs), Hannah, Kevin, Rachel, and Joanna, serve as docents in the “Point Line Mean” exhibition currently underway at Hart Haus in Kennedy Town.

This unique exhibit explores communication and understanding across divides, particularly between the Deaf and hearing worlds. It features the works of six Hong Kong-based artists, including two familiar faces within LDL: KK, who has served as our Hong Kong Sign Language Consultant, and Arthur (何明偉), a postdoctoral researcher at our lab.

Two of the exhibits were even produced within the Department of Linguistics’ Fieldwork Room, highlighting the close collaboration between the artists and the university.

SRAs Become Docents and Bridge the Gap

A dedicated team of SRAs – Hannah, Kevin, Rachel, and Joanna – took on the role of docents for the exhibition. To prepare for this exciting task, they familiarized themselves with the artwork and the messages conveyed by the artists. This involved not only understanding the pieces themselves but also learning about Deaf culture and the intricacies of Hong Kong Sign Language.

Equipped with this knowledge, the SRAs were able to effectively communicate with the artists throughout the exhibition, using both spoken and sign languages. This fostered a truly immersive experience for the SRAs, allowing them to become deeply involved with the Deaf community and its artistic expression.

Guiding Visitors Towards a Deeper Understanding

The SRAs’ role extended to guiding visitors through the exhibition. By providing insightful explanations and fostering open discussions, they helped visitors gain a richer understanding of the artwork and the Deaf experience. This valuable contribution no doubt played a significant role in the success of the “Point Line Mean” exhibition.

The LDL is thrilled to have our SRAs play such a vital role in this important project. Their dedication and willingness to learn have not only enhanced their own knowledge and perspectives but have also enriched the experience for visitors to the exhibition.

Point Line Mean

HART Haus G/F (G/F, Cheung Hing Industrial Building, 12P Smithfield Road, Kennedy Town)

Bridge of Signs documentary Special Screening

27 April 2024 (Sat)
5PM to 6PM
HART Haus 4/F (4/F, Cheung Hing Industrial Building, 12P Smithfield Road, Kennedy Town)

Lab News Publication

“Perceptual and featural measures of Mandarin consonant similarity” published on Data in Brief

Xiaoyu and Youngah’s paper, “Perceptual and featural measures of Mandarin consonant similarity: Confusion matrices and phonological features dataset,” has recently been published in Data in Brief.

The paper presents a comprehensive dataset containing two types of similarity measures for 23 Mandarin consonant phonemes: perceptual and featural measures. The perceptual measures are derived from confusion matrices obtained through native speakers’ identification tasks in quiet and noise-masked conditions. Based on these matrices, specific perceptual measures, such as confusion rate and perceptual distance, are calculated. Additionally, the authors propose a phonological feature system to evaluate the featural differences between each pair of consonants, providing insights into phonological similarity.

The dataset reveals a significant positive correlation between the perceptual and featural measures of similarity. Distance matrices are generated using the perceptual distance data, and a hierarchical cluster dendrogram is plotted using the unweighted pair group method with arithmetic mean (UPGMA). This dendrogram displays five major clusters of consonants.

This dataset can serve as a valuable reference for future studies seeking quantified perceptual measures of Mandarin consonant similarity. Additionally, it can be beneficial for research exploring consonant similarity in perceptual and phonological domains, as well as investigating the influence of linguistic and extralinguistic factors on consonant perception.

Yu, X., & Do, Y. (2024). Perceptual and featural measures of Mandarin consonant similarity: Confusion matrices and phonological features dataset. Data in Brief52, 109868. open_in_newDOI

Lab News

Unsupervised learning of phonemes in early language acquisition: Insights from an autoencoder model @ SNU

Youngah presented at the 2023 Linguistics Colloquium organized by the Seoul National University.

Infants require two crucial skills to successfully begin language acquisition: (a) the ability to learn fundamental speech sound units, or phonemes, and (b) the capacity to decompose sound sequences into meaningful units. This talk will discuss the effectiveness of an autoencoder model in learning phonemes and phoneme boundaries from unsegmented, non-transcribed wave data, similar to the early stages of infant language acquisition. The experiment was conducted in Mandarin and English, and the results demonstrate that phonemes and their associated features can be learned through repeated projection and reconstruction without prior knowledge of segmentation. The model clusters segments of the same phoneme and projects different phonemes to separate regions in the hidden space. Furthermore, the model successfully decomposes words into phonemes in sequential order, which is a crucial foundation for phonotactic knowledge. However, the model struggles to cluster allophones closely, indicating the boundary between bottom-up and top-down information in phonological learning. This study suggests that fundamental sound knowledge in the early stages of language acquisition can be learned to some extent through unsupervised learning without labeled data or prior knowledge of segmentation, providing valuable insights into early human language acquisition.

Do, Y. (2023). Unsupervised learning of phonemes in early language acquisition: Insights from an autoencoder model. 2023 Linguistics Colloquium, Seoul National University.

Lab News

Summer Meetings Conclude and Bingzi Departs for MIT

The last of the summer research meetings has just been concluded. Our team has made significant progress, and we are excited about the potential outcomes of our research.

We want to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the research interns who have contributed immensely to the success of the projects throughout the summer. Their efforts have been invaluable, and we are proud to have them as part of our team.

We also want to acknowledge the contributions of Bingzi, who will soon be commencing her research journey at MIT. We wish her all the best in her future endeavours.

Thanks everyone for your support in our research.

Lab News Publication

“Substantive bias and variation in the acquisition of vowel harmony” published on Glossa

Youngah and Tingyu’s paper have recently published in the journal Glossa. The paper is titled “Substantive bias and variation in the acquisition of vowel harmony.”

The study delves into substantive bias, a phenomenon where learners exhibit a preference for phonetically motivated patterns during language acquisition. The paper provides evidence that variable input, as opposed to categorical input, can activate substantive bias. In the experiment, native Hong Kong Cantonese speakers were randomly assigned to either categorical or variable training conditions for vowel backness harmony or disharmony, or to a no-training control condition. The results reveal that participants in the categorical and control conditions did not show a bias towards either pattern. However, those in the variable conditions demonstrated a preference for vowel harmony. This suggests that input variability can strengthen the effect of substantive bias. This research contributes to our understanding of the role of input variability in phonological learning and the mechanisms involved in acquiring phonetically motivated and unmotivated phonological patterns.

Congratulations to Youngah and Tingyu on their successful publication! The paper is accessible through Glossa under open access.

Huang, T., & Do, Y. (2023). Substantive bias and variation in the acquisition of vowel harmony. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 8(1), Article 1. open_in_new DOI

Lab News

Bridging Corpus and Norm: Mandarin Sensory Adjectival Phrases : ICLC16 @ HHU

Thomas recently presented the work with Xiaoyu, Youngah and Tungle from National Taiwan University at the 16th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference in Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. The study converged ratings and corpus measures for ABB words in Chinese through PCA.

The first page of the presentation slides.