Accessibility statement

Current projects

Modelling bottom-up and top-down linguistic knowledge across different contexts of bilingual development

  • PI (ESRC): Monika Schmid
  • PI (ANR): Barbara Köpke
  • PI (DFG): Holger Hopp
  • Research Associates: E Jamieson
  • 2024-2027
  • Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Partners in other countries receive funding from the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the German Research Foundation (DFG)
  • Project page

The ability to acquire, maintain and use more than one language is a key component of the human language faculty. This project systematically models how environmental and cognitive factors shape language development across different populations of bilingual speakers.

Using the acquisition and maintenance of grammatical gender in bilingual adults as a lens into linguistic knowledge and processing, this project assesses how input frequency and age of second-language acquisition affect item-specific and rule-based aspects of lexical and grammatical development among French-German and English-German speakers at various stages of language learning. Using a large data set collected in different linguistic environments, the project systematically delineates the scope of cross-linguistic influence and it models the contributions of age of acquisition, frequency of use and language dominance as continuous variables. The project will yield a better understanding of how language development is guided by top-down and bottom-up factors at the intersection of the lexicon and the grammar at different stages throughout the human lifespan. By charting how bilingual experience shapes language knowledge and processing, it provides novel insights into the key theoretical question of the degree and scope to which language learning is subserved by domain-general or domain-specific skills. 

Interactions in Grammatical Systems: North-South Dialect Variation in England

  • PI: Claire Childs
  • Research Associate: Beth Cole
  • 2021-2023
  • Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council 
  • Project page

This project focuses on the regional distribution of grammatical forms within England and how these phenomena interact structurally within dialect systems. Certain grammatical phenomena are reported to have North-South patterning within England, but sociolinguistic research to date has tended to focus on these as isolated units. As such, we do not know the extent to which these North-South patterns in the grammar of English dialects are the result of, or independent of, structural interactions between grammatical features themselves. This project focuses on this variation in the domains of negation, subject-verb agreement and the auxiliary system, using methods from syntax and sociolinguistics to collect data from speakers’ perception and production: (1) an online acceptability judgement questionnaire, open to participants across England; (2) sociolinguistic interviews with pairs of speakers in four English cities (Newcastle upon Tyne, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton). The research will enhance our understanding of the linguistic systems underlying regional dialect variation and provide insights into potential language change.

Accent Bias and Fair Access in Britain (ABFAB)

The aim of the ABFAB project is to investigate attitudes to regional accents in Britain today, and the effects that accent bias may or may not have on access to the professions among speakers of different varieties of English in the UK. Combining methods from linguistics, psychology, and economics, the project will focus on the role of accent and other speech factors in people's ability to judge competence in hiring contexts, both members of the public and recruiters in law firms in London and Leeds.

Anatomy, Acoustics, and the Individual: Investigating Inter-Speaker Vocal Tract Variation for Forensic Speaker Comparison

Every person’s vocal tract is unique. Information about its shape is encoded in the speech signal and provides cues for speaker identification. Understanding this encoding is essential for forensic speaker comparison across different speech recordings, but currently there is no direct evidence of how vocal anatomy affects the speech signal. This project addresses the issue with three research questions: which anatomical features contribute most to systematic variation in speech; what is the range of variation of these features within the population; and to what extent are anatomically-derived differences in speech detectable by humans and automatic systems? These questions will be addressed with a novel combination of acoustic modelling and magnetic resonance image analysis. Results will impact forensic casework by highlighting discriminatory features, measuring their impact on listeners, and providing population data. Furthermore, understanding the links between anatomy and acoustics has impact for speech and language therapy and speech synthesis applications.

Enhancing the Quality of Psychological Interventions Delivered by Telephone (EQUITy)

  • PI: Paul Drew
  • RA: Annie Irvine
  • April 2018 – October 2023
  • Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)
  • Project page

‘Geordie’? ‘Mackem’? ‘Smoggie’?: Dialect Differences in the North East of England (GMS)

This project investigates linguistic variation and change in the dialects spoken in three urban centres of the North East of England: Newcastle upon Tyne, Sunderland, and Middlesbrough. As varieties of ‘North East English’, these dialects share many linguistic properties, but the people who speak them have distinctive local identities and their language differs grammatically in ways that have yet to be systematically quantified. Our analysis focuses on grammatical, lexical and discourse-pragmatic features in recordings of people from these three locales, which were made for the ESRC-funded project ‘The Use and Utility of Localised Speech Forms in Determining Identity’ (TUULS, Llamas et al. 2016-19). Using quantitative sociolinguistic methods, we examine the extent of dialectal variation in the area and track the spread of linguistic changes over time and across geographical space. By considering the socio-historical context of each community, we also explore why linguistic differences arose within a relatively small region.

Matches and Mismatches in Nominal Morphology and Agreement: Learning from the Acquisition of Eegimaa

Theoretical accounts of the strategies used by children to learn the structures of words and grammatical features of languages differ considerably, but our knowledge of what is possible is limited by the existing focus on a relatively small number of languages associated with industrialised nations. Here, we investigate grammatical features and structures that may be expressed in a variety of different ways. Examples of grammatical features include number (eg the distinction between singular and plural), or gender (eg distinguishing masculine and feminine in languages like French), features expressed within the shape of the word and associated items. Grammatical structure may be manifested in agreement across the separate words of a noun phrase. This project investigates the acquisition of inflectional morphology, ie grammatical features and structures as reflected in the word forms and associated agreement, in Gújjolaay Eegimaa, a language of the Atlantic family of the Niger Congo phylum spoken in Southern Senegal. This language has a gender system of the type traditionally known as a noun class system. Noun class systems with complex gender agreement are characteristic of the Niger-Congo languages.

Supporting Deaf Children: Translating the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire into British Sign Language

  • Researchers: Richard Ogden, Helen Phillips and Barry Wright
  • RAs: Chris Bojas and Reihaneh Afshari Saleh
  • Duration: 2018–2019
  • Funded by the Centre for Future Health
  • Project page

Research suggests that Deaf children and Deaf young people have much higher rates of emotional and behavioural problems than hearing children and young people, yet assessment tools in English are not accessible for Deaf children and their families. This project translated one such screening tool, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), into British Sign Language (BSL) which can be completed by parents or teachers or by the child and scored by a clinician.

The Use and Utility of Localised Speech Forms in Determining Identity: Forensic and Sociophonetic Perspectives (TUULS)

There are two main strands to this project: one sociophonetic, the other forensic. On the sociophonetic side, our interest is in the relationship between mobility and social class as a predictor of accent variation in urban north-east England. The emphasis here is on group-level linguistic differences. What does it mean to say that speech forms are localised versus supralocal? What makes north-eastern accents distinct, yet similar? On the forensic side, we take a Bayesian reasoning approach, focussing on individual speaker differences in long-term spectral features that we hypothesise to be essentially accent-independent. The goal is to test the viability of combining the database of recordings we collect for the TUULS project with an existing database, DyViS, which represents a highly dissimilar variety (viz., Southern Standard British English). Should interspeaker differences within the two respective accent groups be greater than differences between them, we can justify combining TUULS and DyViS into a single, much larger reference population. Significant benefits would be brought with respect to cost and time savings in speaker comparison work if we can demonstrate that the collection of case-specific reference data is generally unnecessary.

Voice and Identity: Source, Filter, Biometric

The aim of the project is to compare the performance of different methods for forensic voice (or speaker) comparison – from linguistics and phonetics, acoustics, and automatic speaker recognition (ASR) – on the same set of recordings. We will explore the performance of the methods to assess their relative strengths, the consistency of their results and error patterns, and thus the potential for different methods to be integrated into a single framework. The ultimate aim is to improve methods in forensic voice comparison, taking a major step towards the development of a methodology that is more transparent, validated, and replicable. This outcome will benefit academics and forensic practitioners, the public, judicial systems, and investigative/security agencies.

York BabyLab Studies

Our team specialises in the study of phonological development. Our research focuses on infants and toddlers, including observational studies of production and experimental studies of word recognition and word learning. We study the relationship between babble and early words, and the shaping of a child's knowledge of the sound system of the language they are learning. We also study how the speech of the adults around them affects infants' learning.