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

“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.
Lab News

“Variation learning in phonology and morphosyntax” published in Cognition

Youngah, Jon, and Samuel’s article, “Variation learning in phonology and morphosyntax”, has been published in the journal “Cognition”.

Phonological variation includes phonetic variation, which is influenced by articulatory or perceptual factors, whereas morphosyntactic variation is not. The researchers aimed to identify whether learning differences exist when children are exposed to phonological or morphosyntactic patterns with equal complexity. Cantonese-speaking children were taught an artificial language involving rounding harmony and gender agreement, with patterns applying variably or categorically.

The results showed that in the categorical learning conditions, participants had comparable rates of harmony and agreement. However, in the variable phonological learning conditions, children’s application of harmony exceeded the rate of exposure in training, suggesting a bias towards phonetically grounded rounding harmony. In the variable morphosyntactic condition, participants applied agreement below the rate of exposure.

These findings reveal a qualitative difference between learning in the two domains, with phonological learning being influenced by substantive grounding, while morphosyntactic learning is not. This research contributes to our understanding of language acquisition in children and may have implications for educational practices and interventions.

The article can be accessed here until 13 September 2023.

Do, Y., Havenhill, J., & Sze, S. S. L. (2023). Variation learning in phonology and morphosyntax. Cognition239, 105573.

Lab News

UGC Grants for 2023 approved

The University Grants Committee has approved the use of General Research Fund this year for the following LDL projects.

Breaking down and rebuilding iconicity

Youngah will lead postdoc researchers and students in this project, which aims to understand the phonological and cognitive mechanisms behind spoken iconicity and its accessibility to a variety of language speakers, by training a neural network with ideophone corpus data to generate sound-meaning associations and test them in lab-based experiments with human participants.

Sociophonetic variation in Hong Kong and Heritage Cantonese

Jon will lead postdoc researchers and students in this project, which seeks to understand how phonological representation and sound change occur in bilingual communities. In particular, they will look at the sociophonetic variation of Cantonese sibilants among speakers of different linguistic backgrounds.

Lab News

Learning phonology without phonology : Talk at Todai, 5 Jul 2023

Youngah has been invited to give a talk at the University of Tokyo on 5 July 2023. The talk will discuss her collaborative work with Frank, “Learning phonology without phonology: insights from autoencoder modelling”, exploring the topic of how infants learn phonology without any prior knowledge of it.

The talk will present the results of their autoencoder modeling research. The study suggests that it might be possible for phonemes and distinctive features to be learned from unsegmented, non-transcribed wave data that resembles the language acquisition stages of infants.

The experiment conducted on Mandarin and English indicates that features could potentially be learned through repetitive projection and reconstruction, even without any prior knowledge of segmentation. The model appears to cluster segments of the same phoneme and separates different phonemes into distinct regions in the hidden space.

This research suggests that sound knowledge might be acquired to a certain extent through unsupervised learning, without the need for labeled data or previous phonological understanding. The findings offer insights into the early stages of human language acquisition and the ability of infants to recognize the sounds of their native language.

Lab News

Students complete Immersive Lessons on Hong Kong Sign Language

Over the past five months, from January to May 2023, Rachel, Jasper, Tiffany, and Kevin have successfully completed a 24-hour immersive course in Hong Kong Sign Language (HKSL), as part of an ongoing research investigation into Hong Kong Sign Language, conducted by Youngah and Arthur of the Language Development Lab.

Throughout the course, the students engaged in twice-per-week, one-on-one immersive sessions with Ms. KONG Wan Ki (KK), a senior trainer from the Professional Sign Language Centre. With their trainer unable to hear, the students were required to use HKSL, supplemented with writing tools, to communicate, thereby fostering a comprehensive understanding of the language.

Upon completing the course, the students achieved Level III proficiency in the Centre’s curriculum, which is recognized by the Hong Kong Sign Language Association. In total, they have acquired 655 individual signs in Hong Kong Sign Language.

We would like to acknowledge the remarkable efforts of Rachel, Jasper, Tiffany, and Kevin, and express our gratitude to KK and the Professional Sign Language Centre for their invaluable support throughout the course. Their commitment and diligence have significantly contributed to the progress of our research.

Lab News

Presenting at the HISPhonCog2023 @ Seoul

Our lab members will present their recent work at the upcoming Hanyang International Symposium on Phonetics and Cognitive Sciences of Language 2023 (HISPhonCog2023) in Seoul!

Jon, Ming, Ivy and Jonah will present “downloadAudiovisual enhancement in clear speech production of English laterals.” It looks at the production of laterals and other coronal consonants in normal and listener-oriented clear speech. The study involved 18 adult native English speakers who participated in a two-part speech production experiment. The findings suggest that listener-oriented speech does not necessarily prioritize auditory perceptibility. Instead, speakers may choose to provide listeners with direct visual cues of a segment’s articulatory/gestural properties, consistent with the inherently multimodal nature of speech perception.

Frank and Youngah will present “downloadBottom-up learning of a phonetic system using an autoencoder“. The study explores the ability of a machine learning model to learn a phonetic system from contextless acoustic input. The autoencoder model was trained on recordings from English and Mandarin speakers and proved successful in capturing the phonetic system of both languages. The study suggests that infants’ phonetic knowledge may not be innate but can be acquired based purely on acoustic information, without relying on language-specific learning facilities. However, the model could not reach phonological knowledge without training on phonological cues, highlighting the indispensable role of phonological information in refining learners’ knowledge on phonetics and phonology.

Changhe and Jon will present “downloadNasality and Nasal Excrescence of the Nasal Vowels in Shanghai Chinese“. It examines the acoustic and articulatory configuration of the Shanghainese nasal vowels. The study analyzed data from six native speakers of Shanghainese and found that the nasal vowels show little nasalization in the first fifth of their duration and steadily increasing nasality thereafter. The findings suggest that the Shanghainese nasal vowels are only partially nasalized, with no clear relationship between the proportion of vowel nasality and duration or presence of the nasal consonant.

Lab News

AMP2022: Transmission of Vowel Dis/harmony

Bingzi and Youngah’s study “The Transmission of Vowel Harmony and Vowel Disharmony: An Iterated Learning Study,” has recently been presented at the 2022 Annual Meeting on Phonology. The paper explores the role of a cognitive predisposition known as the substantive bias in the acquisition and transmission of phonological patterns, focusing on the asymmetry between vowel harmony and disharmony, two phonological patterns that differ in their phonetic motivation and frequency in natural languages.

Previous research has shown that learners may better acquire certain patterns over others due to their cognitive predispositions, known as inductive biases. Structural bias refers to the preference towards simpler patterns, while substantive bias refers to the tendency to more readily acquire phonetically motivated patterns. While the effect of the substantive bias on phonological learning has not always been detected, studies have constantly provided evidence for the structural bias.

The paper aims to explore the role of substantive bias during the course of language transmission. The authors used the iterated learning paradigm, which involves one or multiple participants representing one generation, who are asked to learn and replicate the target behavior from the predecessor. The output of a generation is used as the input for the next generation, and the learning procedure stays the same for every iteration. The experiment contained two conditions, the natural condition where participants learned vowel harmony patterns and the unnatural condition exhibiting vowel disharmony patterns.

The results showed no general difference between the diachronic changes of vowel harmony and vowel disharmony, indicating that both patterns are equally able to survive through long-term transmission. The experiment results are not in alignment with typological data, on which the authors noted that it might be due to the design of the transmission chain, which relied solely on learning from a single participant in each generation. The authors suggest that future work may involve interaction into the experimental paradigm to explore other potential mechanisms through which the substantive bias influences phonological transmission.

The findings suggest that while the substantive bias may play a role in phonological learning, it may not have a significant impact on language change through iterated learning, at least at the population level.

Yu, B., & Do, Y. (2023). The Transmission of Vowel Harmony and Vowel Disharmony: An Iterated Learning Study. Proceedings of the Annual Meetings on Phonology, 10, Article 0.

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Lab News

ABB prototype of collocate–ideophone constructions in Mandarin Chinese : CogL

Thomas’s paper on the ABB prototype of collocate-ideophone constructions in Mandarin Chinese is now published on Cognitive Linguistics!

Van Hoey, T. (2023). ABB, a salient prototype of collocate–ideophone constructions in Mandarin Chinese. Cognitive Linguistics. open_in_new DOI file_download PDF