Research Grants

2017-2019: Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)

Previous research has demonstrated that are certain intuitions regarding what language sounds should go along with what meanings. This phenomenon is known as sound symbolism. For instance, if you were told that there were two shapes: one round and one jagged; and that one was called a maluma and one a takete, which word would you guess went with which shape? Most people throughout the world tend to say maluma goes better with the round shape, and that takete goes along better with the sharp shape. We want to know more about why that is! The goal of this research is to learn about when this universal intuition arises. In addition, we are investigating the role of language learning, and early perceptual experience, in shaping this intuition.

Principle Investigators: Dr. Suzanne Curtin and Dr. Penny Pexman, University of Calgary
Project Coordinator: Natalia Czarnecki, University of Calgary
Collaborators: Dr. Stephanie Archer, University of Alberta; David Sidhu, University of Calgary

2012-2017: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)

Statistical learning mechanisms have been proposed as a way in which infants can track information from the linguistic signal (Saffran, 2003), however the question remains as to how infants first begin to track statistical patterns and constrain the language learning space. One way for the infant to ‘bootstrap’ acquisition is to attend to the highly salient prosodic information available in speech (prosodic bootstrapping; Gleitman & Wanner, 1982; Morgan & Demuth, 1996) and use this information to make assumptions about the nature of words in their language. Prosodic information highlights the possible linguistic boundaries and the units (words, phrases, clauses) in the input. The overarching goal of this research project is to explore how the perception and processing of lexical (word level) stress information facilitates the detection of linguistic structure in the speech input.

Principle Investigator: Dr. Suzanne Curtin
Project Coordinator: Pat Mihalicz
Collaborators: Stephanie Archer, Warwick University; Jennifer Campbell, UBC; Jennifer Ference, UCalgary

2012-2017: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Our research consists of two lines of inquiry that examine infants’ early expectations about the appropriate sound combinations for English content words (e.g., nouns). In one line, we explore whether infants display preferences for particular phonological and whether any such preferences are reflected in infants’ willingness to map novel words to novel objects. In the second line, we investigate the contexts in which infants privilege particular word forms as labels for objects—that is, whether providing referential or syntactic cues will lead infants to override their default preferences for particular word forms as labels for objects. Of overarching interest is infants’ emerging sensitivity to the physical properties of native-language speech sounds (phonetics), native-language sound categories (phonology), and native-language sound sequences (phonotactics) during the critical first year of life.

Principle Investigator: Dr. Suzanne Curtin
Co-Investigator: Dr. Susan Graham
Project Coordinator: Patrick Mihalicz
Post-doc: Dr. Valerie San Juan

2009-2013: National Science Foundation (NSF)

To achieve full linguistic competence in a speech community, a child ultimately must perceive and produce the variability characteristic of the speech environment – variability that is not random but predictable and structured by other parts of the linguistic system and by social factors. Seemingly at odds with this, infants must maintain some flexibility in their mapping from sound to meaning. For example, a Calgary infant may sometimes encounter speakers whose speech deviates quite drastically from Calgary community norms, as when addressed in English by a native Italian talker. The vowel distributions realized in non-native Italian accented English are shifted significantly from those of the local dialect. The overarching aim of the present research is to examine the dual nature of this sensitivity to variability in speech to:
1) Measure the range of variability to which infants are exposed in their speech community.
2) Understand capacities of infants at various ages to make use of this distributional acoustic information.
3) Examine how word-learning may shift sensitivity to distributional information.
4) Examine the role social interaction may have in driving these perceptual processes.

Principle Investigator: Dr. Lori Holt, Dept. Of Psychology, CMU
Co-Principle Investigator: Dr. Suzanne Curtin, UCalgary
Project Coordinator: Patrick Mihalicz
Graduate Student: Kelly Burkinshaw