UC Berkeley Phonology Lab

current research projects.


Phonology Lab

50-52 Dwinelle Hall
University of California, Berkeley


Cross linguistic studies on spoken language processing. Completed NIH Grant (Keith Johnson)

The long-term objective of this research project is to understand human spoken language processing (particularly speech perception and auditory word recognition) in linguistic context. Speech signals are unique in human experience because they are highly familiar, and have great practical significance in daily life. Therefore, it is not too surprising to find that people develop optimized processing strategies tuned specifically for speech. In this work we study how this tuning process may be sensitive to linguistic structure. Cross-linguistic spoken language research is important because without it we are in danger of concluding that the phenomena found in one language (or even dialect) are somehow normative for speakers of other languages. Such a narrow understanding of 'normal' spoken language processing is likely to have a negative impact on clinical speech and hearing practice in a pluralistic society.


Speech Aerodynamics (John Ohala, Maria Josep Sole, & Ronald Sprouse)

We are studying patterns of nasal coarticulation and phonation types using recordings of nasal and oral airflow and pressure. We have recently (2007) up-graded our equipment thanks to a grant from the Holbrook Experimental Phonetics Fund. Tilsen and McGuire plan to use the equipment to study the phonetic basis of syntactic patterns.

Exemplar models of phonology (Keith Johnson, Marc Ettlinger)

Ettlinger is extending Johnson's earlier work on exemplar-based speech perception with models of phonological change using exemplar-based language learning agents. The aim of this project is to test through model simulations the degreee to which patterns of phonological change can be attributed to simple "first principles" of spoken language perception and production.

Speech Rhythm (Keith Johnson, Sam Tilsen)

We use Fourier analysis of the slow-moving speech amplitude envelope to analyze speech rhythm. This method has the advantage, over other methods, of not requiring as a first analysis step that vowel and consonant intervals be hand labelled. Thus, we can quickly characterize rhythm at multiple time-scales in large speech corpora.

Visual Phonetics (Keith Johnson, Christian DiCanio)

The aim of this project is to test the hypothesis that the phonetic basis of sound change is visual as well as acoustic. We are looking at how place of articulation in nasal coda consonants may be sensitive to visual phonetic and acoustic phonetic properties of nasal consonants.


student research support

Students have successfully sought funding for their research from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the UC Berkeley Graduate Division, the UC Berkeley Council of Graduate Students, the Abigail Hodgen Fund for Women in the Social Sciences, and of course, the Department of Linguistics.

Holbrook fund

Phonetics research at UC Berkeley is generously supported by an endowment - the Holbook fund. This fund makes it possible to periodically buy workstations and equipment for general phonetic research.


Research collaborations exist with several colleagues at Berkeley and in the Bay Area.

Professor John Houde (UCSF) works with students in the lab and sits in on seminars when time permits. He studies sensory-motor adaptation in speech and the neural correlates of speech perception and speech motor control.

Dr. Edward Chang (UCSF) collaborates with Prof. Johnson and works with students in the lab. He studies the neurophysiology of speech production and perception. Professor Nelson Morgan (Department of Electrical Engineering, ICSI) is valuable colleage and teacher. His research specialization is in automatic speech recognition. He hosts the weekly ICSI "speech lunch".

Professor Dan Klein (Department of Computer Science) specializes in natural language processing. We've collaborated with him to make speech corpora available via the Berkeley Language Center.