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Sound change and the acquisition of speech

Funding, application period

ERC, 2012 - 2017

Project description

The proposal forms part of a general aim to relate that way that languages evolve and diverge to how they are acquired by children. The main focus will be on the sounds of languages and in particular on the way that their transmission between a speaker and hearer in everyday conversation can give rise over a longer time-scale to historical sound change. The experimental basis for such investigations consists of simulating in the laboratory the conditions that can give rise to historical sound change. This will be done by measuring the movement and co-ordination of the vocal organs during speech production and how such movements are transmitted to listeners: here the main task will be to determine whether the production-perception relationships are inherently more unstable and ambiguous in children than they are in adults. Since the aim is to establish general laws of how speech transmission and historical change are connected, physiological and perceptual data will be analyzed in children, adolescents, and adults from languages that have very different sound structures, including German, Cantonese Chinese, and Polish. Such data will then be used to build computational models in order to predict how such instabilities can occasionally set the seed for historical sound change and for explaining why certain sounds and sound combinations are typologically quite rare in the languages of the world.

Project website

http://phonetik.uni-muenchen.de/soundchange