Stuttering and bilingualism

Words and pseudowords

Age and learning

"Central" and "peripheral" processes

Lexical access and other factors in pronunciation variation

Usage-based models of aphasia


Stuttering and bilingualism

Parents of bilingual children who stutter are sometimes told to speak only one language with their children. That advice is based on a belief that being bilingual increases the risk of stuttering. Is there solid evidence to back up that advice? Actually, there are very few studies providing any evidence at all that bilingualism might be a risk factor for stuttering -- and there are plenty of reasons to think that bilingual children are at risk of getting falsely diagnosed as stuttering. By far the single most cited study suggesting bilingualism might be a risk factor was published in 1937 by Lee Edward Travis, Wendell Johnson, and Jean Shover. Really, 1937, you ask? Does a single study, published over 80 years ago, really matter? Yes, it really matters, if people keep repeating what it says. So what did it say? Travis et al. (1937) surveyed children in a large school district. They reported that the percentage of children who stuttered was higher among those who spoke another language in addition to English than among those who spoke only English (2.8% vs. 1.8%). Those numbers have been repeated in the literature over and over. In this article, I show that the numbers reported in Travis et al. (1937) do not add up. Among other issues, it appears that some children who stuttered and who spoke only English were not counted in the results. When all children are counted, the stuttering prevalence is not significantly higher in the bilingual group than in the group who spoke only English. If you would like to know more about stuttering, the Stuttering Foundation is a good place to start.

Gahl, S. 2020. Bilingualism as a Purported Risk Factor for Stuttering: Contradictory Data in a Seminal Study (Travis et al., 1937). Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.

Words and pseudowords

Pseudowords such as "blick" have long served as key tools in psycholinguistic investigations of the lexicon. In order to understand how people produce or comprehend real words, the argument goes, one checks whether lexical decision times (or other behavioral measures) differ for that do vs. do not appear in the mental lexicon. A key assumption underlying such investigations is pseudowords are devoid of meaning. In an ongoing collaboration with Harald Baayen and Yu-Ying Chuang at the University of Tübingen, we argue that these assumptions need to be rethought. Pseudowords may in fact carry meaning. On the basis of a computational model of lexical processing, Linear Discriminative Learning (Baayen, Chuang & Blevins, 2018}, we demonstrate that quantitative measures gauging the semantic neighborhoods of pseudowords predict reaction times in the Massive Auditory Lexical Decision (MALD) database (Tucker, Brenner & Danielson, 2018}. We also show that the model successfully predicts the acoustic durations of pseudowords.

Chuang, Y. Y., Vollmer, M. L., Shafaei-Bajestan, E., Gahl, S., Hendrix, P., Baayen, R. H. (2019). On the processing of nonwords in word naming and auditory lexical decision. In Calhoun, S., Escudero, P., Tabain, M. and Warren, P. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Melbourne, Australia, 1233-1237. Canberra, Australia: Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association Inc.

Age and learning

To the degree that the mind changes in response to experience, we can expect language processing and the organization of long-term memory to change with talker age. A common - and useful - simplifying assumption is that the adult language processing system remains essentially unchanged from puberty to the onset of age-related pathology. A related simplifying assumption is that the only changes that do take place during young and middle-age adulthood are (a) physiological changes in our vocal apparatus and hearing, and (b) changes in what we wish to say, as opposed to (c) changes in higher cognitive functions supporting language processing. In a number of projects, some of them ongoing, I test this assumption by examining cognitive change in young and middle-age adulthood. Some of that work is based on the "Up" corpus, which is freely available to researchers.

Regier, T. & Gahl, S. 2004. Learning the unlearnable: The role of missing evidence. Cognition 93, 147-155.

Gahl, S. Age-related change in speaking tempo: Tracking linguistic experience over time. 2011. Poster presented at the 24th annual CUNY conference on sentence processing. Stanford. 2011.

Gahl, S., Cibelli, Emily, Hall, Kathleen, and Ronald Sprouse. 2014. The “Up” corpus: A corpus of speech samples across adulthood. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory 10(2):315-328.

Meylan, Stephan, and S. Gahl. 2014. The Divergent Lexicon: Lexical Overlap Decreases With Age in a Large Corpus of Conversational Speech. Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.

Baayen, H., Tomaschek, F., Gahl, S., and Michael Ramscar. 2017. The Ecclesiastes principle in language change. In M. Hundt, S. Mollin & S. Pfenninger (Eds.), The Changing English Language: Psycholinguistic Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 21-48.

Gahl, S. & Baayen, H. 2019. Twenty-eight years of vowels. Journal of Phonetics 74. 42-54.

"Central" and "peripheral" processes in language production and comprehension

Traditionally, research on word production and comprehension has tended to focus either on "central" processes and representations, such as syntactic, semantic, and phonological information in the mental lexicon, or on "peripheral" processes, such as articulating speech sounds or typing on a keyboard. That scientific division of labor is shaped by, and has in turn come to shape, models in which "peripheral" processes cannot access "central" information. My work is driven by the idea that "peripheral" phenomena such as subtle variation in pronunciation, hand movements, and spelling, do reflect "central" processes, and that central processes are in turn shaped by peripheral ones.

Gahl, S. & Garnsey, S. M. 2004. Knowledge of grammar, knowledge of usage: Syntactic probabilities affect pronunciation variation. Language 80, 748-775.

Gahl, S. & Garnsey, S. M. 2006. Knowledge of grammar includes knowledge of syntactic probabilities. Language 82(2), 405-410.

Gahl, S., Garnsey, S.Matzen, L. & Fisher, C. 2006. "That sounds unlikely": Phonetic cues to garden paths. Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.

Schwartz, M., Dell, G. S., Martin, N., Gahl, S. & Sobel, P. 2006. A Case-series test of the interactive two-step model of lexical access: Evidence from picture naming. Journal of Memory and Language 54, 228-264.

Gahl, S. 2008. "Thyme" and "time" are not homophones. The effect of lemma frequency on word durations in spontaneous speech. Language 84(3), 474-496.

Tily, H., Gahl, S. , Arnon, I., Snider, N., Kothari, A. & Joan Bresnan. 2009. Syntactic probabilities affect pronunciation variation in spontaneous speech. Language and Cognition 1(2), 147-165.

Gahl, S. 2009. Homophone Duration in Spontaneous Speech: A Mixed-Effects Model. UC Berkeley Phonology Lab Annual Report, p. 279-298.

Dukhovny, E., Gahl, S. 2014. Effect of speech generating devices on modality of short-term word storage. Journal of Communication Disorders 48, 52-60.

Gahl, S. & Ingo Plag. in press. Spelling errors in English derivational suffixes reflect morphological boundary strength: A case study. The Mental Lexicon.

Lexical access and other factors in pronunciation variation

Shen, A., Gahl, S., and Johnson, K. 2020. Didn’t hear that coming: effects of withholding phonetic cues to code-switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.

Gahl, S. 2012. Why so short? Competing explanations for variation. In Proceedings of WCCFL 29, p. 1-10.

Gahl, S., Yao, Y., & Keith Johnson. 2012. Why reduce? Phonological neighborhood density and phonetic reduction in spontaneous speech. Journal of Memory and Language 66, 789-806.

Gahl, S. 2015. Lexical competition in vowel articulation revisited: Vowel dispersion in the Easy/Hard database. Journal of Phonetics 49, 96-116.

Gahl, S. & Julia Strand. Don't (always) blame the neighbors: Similarity vs. confusability in the lexicon. Poster accepted for presentation at the Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing conference. Riva del Garda, Italy. September 2012. (Presentation canceled due to inability to attend the conference.)

Gahl, S. & Julia Strand. Auditory confusability vs. phonological neighborhood in language production. Poster presented at the 26th annual CUNY conference on sentence processing. University of South Carolina. March 2013.

Gahl, S. & Julia Strand. 2016. Many neighborhoods: Phonological and perceptual neighborhood density in lexical production and perception. Journal of Memory and Language 89, 162-178.

Usage-based models of aphasia

I began pursuing exposure-based effects in aphasia in my dissertation work (Gahl, 2002). Some of the preparations for that work (such as getting frequency counts for various syntactic constructions) resulted in publications describing corpus frequencies and methodological considerations.

Gahl, S. & Lise Menn. 2016. Usage-based Approaches to Aphasia. Aphasiology 30(11),1361-1377.

Gahl, S. 2002. The role of lexical biases in aphasic sentence comprehension. Aphasiology 16,1173-1198.

Gahl, S., Menn, L., Ramsberger, G., Jurafsky, D., Elders, E., Rewega, M., & Holland, A. 2003. Syntactic frame and verb bias in aphasia: Plausibility judgments of undergoer-subject sentences. Brain and Cognition 53, 223-228.

Menn, L., Gahl, S., Ramsberger, G., Jurafsky, D., Rewega, M. & Holland, A. 2003. Beyond canonical form: Verb-frame frequency affects verb production and comprehension. Brain and Language, 87, 23-24.

Gahl, S., Jurafsky, D. & D. Roland. 2004. Verb subcategorization frequencies: American English corpus data, methodological studies, and cross-corpus comparisons. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers 36 (3), 432-443.

Roland, D., Gahl, S., Jurafsky, D., Menn, L., Elder, E. & Riddoch, C. 2000. Verb Subcategorization Frequency Differences between Business-News and Balanced Corpora: The Role of Verb Sense. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Comparing Corpora, pages 28-34, Hong Kong, October.