Haskins Labs receives $3.4 million NIH grant to study links between perception and speech

Haskins Laboratories, an independent research institute in New Haven that collaborates with Yale University and other institutions around the world, has been awarded $3.4 million by the National Institutes of Health to continue the study of links between production and perception in speech.

We usually hear speech, so it is natural to think of it as sounds, but a long line of research suggests that we are actually hearing moving mouths,” said Douglas H. Whalen, the Vice President of Research at Haskins. “The mouth shapes the sound created by our vocal folds, and our brain unravels this shaping to figure out the linguistic message.”

The experiments in this five-year project will explore how this link is made, using such tools as speech synthesis, ultrasound, optical tracking and perceptual assessment—or, just plain listening. “Whether we perceive sounds or movements has consequences for how we rehabilitate stroke patients or help misarticulating children,” he said.

One line of research will test mathematical ways of allowing machines to automatically extract movements — to mimic the way it is believed that humans do it. Another line of study will look carefully at the English “r” sound—an apparent case of an acoustic target with important implications for speech rehabilitation.

Other studies will show how imitation works with foreign sounds, to let us know how children might begin to learn their own language. The importance of knowing some characteristics of the speaker—their resting posture, their vocal tract shape, and their usual speaking pitch — will be addressed. They will also evaluate some apparent cases in which these links break down.

Together, the results will enhance our understanding of the basic processes of speech and how we might fix them when they break down,” said Whalen.

Haskins Laboratories was founded in 1935 by the late Dr. Caryl P. Haskins with a primary research focus on the science of the spoken and written word. This independent research institute has been in New Haven, Connecticut since 1970 when it formalized affiliations with Yale University and the University of Connecticut. Further information is available online at the Haskins Laboratories website.

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