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Implications of rhythm and timing in speech disorders

Research has shown that regular rhythm enhances memory as well as the monitoring and processing of sound. Employing a general cognitive framework (dynamic attending theory), EU-funded researchers explored the benefits of predictable rhythm in speech in relation to other rhythmic processes.
Implications of rhythm and timing in speech disorders
A rhythmic sound pattern helps build expectations in a listener to better process information and coordinate actions. For example, changes in the auditory signal are more easily detected and as a result, we can sing, dance, make music and move together in time.

The project PREDICTSPEECH (Predictable rhythm in speech - Benefits for perception and production) studied individuals with and without speech disorders. With the overall approach targeting language specificity and generality of rhythmic processes, the team investigated the conditions under which predictable rhythmic patterns in speech improve speech perception and production.

PREDICTSPEECH looked at speech rhythm beyond the realm of phonetics/linguistics. The study addressed its communicative function and relation to other human rhythmic behaviours – for example, in the music or motor domains.

Focused on speech in German and French (two major rhythmic types among Europe's languages), the team explored how speakers/listeners coordinate their actions in relation to predictable rhythmic patterns. The goal was to determine how this serves communicative functions such as language processing and fluency in speech production – for both 'healthy' and stuttering individuals.

A series of experiments produced notable findings, many of which appear to provide first evidence on various topics. Researchers found major differences between German and French listeners, with results indicating that accents and language-specific phonetic implementation are essential for auditory-motor coupling with speech. One experiment investigated the relationship between speech and gross motor functions (e.g. walking); results confirmed that even gross motor functions are related to rhythmic speech processes. Other experimental findings provide evidence for the underlying mechanisms of rhythmic facilitation of speech processing induced by non-verbal/musical cues.

Regarding the role of rhythmic processes in speech disorders, PREDICTSPEECH tested children, adolescents and adults who stutter. The experiments, which focused on their rhythmic skills, support the idea that stuttering is related to a timing deficit and also entails rhythmic deficits in the non-verbal domain. The findings should also be of interest for other speech disorders that show a relation to timing processes (e.g. dyslexia, apraxia).

Project work and outcomes have practical outcomes for speech therapy and language acquisition. They are also relevant to disciplines such as phonetics, psycholinguistics, movement sciences and cognitive neurosciences.

Related information


Speech disorders, predictable rhythm, PREDICTSPEECH, rhythmic patterns, communicative function, stuttering
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