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Syllables and the Timing of Speech

Final Report Summary - STIMOS (Syllables and the Timing of Speech)

The project develops an integrative symbolic-dynamical framework for gaining a fundamental understanding of the relation between qualitative spoken language form, also known as phonological form, and the continuous speech movements and acoustics in which this form is realized. The empirical domain of the project is syllables. The syllable is a core unit of spoken language, mediating between the lower-level properties of individual sounds and the higher-level prosody. While keeping the theoretical linguistic landscape in perspective, the project combines advanced experimental techniques with novel forms of computational and mathematical analyses to address a fundamental problem in present day cognitive science. The conceptual core of the problem is the relation between the qualitative and the continuous for spoken language and cognition. The overarching aim is the development of a unified framework for addressing this problem, incorporating essential distinctions such as the higher and lower levels of description and capturing the relation between linguistic principles, experimental data and statistics. The novelty in the formal tools and the change in perspective in our approach allows asking questions that will not be conventional, e.g. how do individuals manifest the same qualitative structures differently, how is the mental-physical relation instantiated under different conditions, and how does variability contribute to shaping categorical organizational principles at the collective level of description. While opening new theoretical vistas for cognition and language, the proposed research also incorporates as part of its core objectives the development of techniques for diagnosing the syllabic structuring of speech, with significant potential long-term benefits for assessing normal language development as well as impairment or developmental delay in patients and child populations. Overall, the project combines experimental, computational and analytical approaches while keeping in perspective theoretical developments on the diversity and specificity of syllable structure across human languages.