Projects

The development of fundamental frequency in babbles and early words of typically developing children and children with hearing impairment: the case of intrinsic vowel pitch

2021-2024

Abstract: In all languages of the world high vowels (such as /i/ in 'key') and /u/ in 'who') are pronounced with a higher pitch than low vowels (such as /a/ in 'far'). This phenomenon is known as 'intrinsic vowel pitch'. In the past, this phenomenon has been explained in two ways. On the one hand, intrinsic vowel pitch has to do with the operation of the speech organs: during the articulation of /i/ and /u/ the tongue is lifted far forward in the mouth. This tension pulls on the larynx and this stretches the vocal folds so that a higher pitch is obtained. In vowels like /a/ the vocal folds are not stretched to the same degree so that a lower tone is heard. On the other hand, this phenomenon supports the intentions of speakers who aim to make vowels sound as different as possible from each other in order to speak clearly. Scientists do not agree on which explanation is correct, but they do agree on the following: if the first explanation is correct then intrinsic vowel pitch is expected to occur in babble of deaf babies. Remarkably, this has never been systematically investigated in a large-scale study and this is precisely what this project aims to investigate.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis

Jo Verhoeven
Researchers:

Funding Agency: FWO (Research Foundation - Flanders)


Auditory brainstem implantation and language development

2017-2020

Abstract: This project aims to investigate the oral language development of congenitally hearing-impaired children with an auditory brainstem implant (ABI). ABI is a relatively new development to restore the hearing of children with a severe-to-profound hearing loss due to i.a. the absence of the auditory nerve. The speech perception outcomes of children with ABI have been investigated, but detailed linguistically underpinned studies of their speech production are virtually lacking. The goal of the present research project is to provide a first linguistically motivated description of the lexical and phonological development of children with ABI. Their development will be evaluated against the background of the acquisition process of normally hearing children and that of severe-to-profound hearing-impaired children who received a cochlear implant. The focus is on the longitudinal development of the word productions of children with ABI. First, we investigate their cumulative vocabularies and the balance between their spoken and signed words (lexical development). Second, their word productions are analysed from a phonological perspective: in what order are segments acquired and what phonological regularities account for that order and (possible) deviations from that order? Which segmental substitution and deletion patterns occur? What is the consistency and variability of their productions and how does the accuracy of their word productions develop relative to the adult target forms?

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Jolien Faes

Funding Agency: FWO PostDoc grant


Identifiability and intelligibility of the speech of hearing impaired children using a cochlear implant

2015-2019

Abstract: Until recently children who were born 'deaf' remained 'deaf', and thus were unable to acquire spoken language. Fortunately nowadays deaf children with a cochlear deficit can be helped with a surgical intervention: they receive a cochlear implant (CI) very early in life so that they can 'hear', i.e., can experience sound sensations. The first concern that the parents of these children phrase, is: 'will my child hear with an implant?' The answer is definitely positive. The second question usually is: 'will my child speak and sound like a normal hearing (NH) child of the same age?' This question remains unanswered. We want to address this issue from two perspectives: the identifiability and intelligibility of CI children. Recent findings indicate that the speech of 6- to 7-year-old CI users deviates from that of NH peers in particular fine details. But are those details that we can measure also detectable by the human ear? Are they sufficient to reliably identify CI children's speech? This will be investigated by having people listen to recordings of speech of CI children, children with an acoustic hearing aid (HA), and NH children. A second main research question concerns the intelligibility of CI children's speech. When the children enter mainstream primary school, it is quintessential to know if they are intelligible for people not familiar with them. In this project we will assess their intelligibility using different methodologies.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis Hanne Kloots
Researchers:
  • Nathalie Boonen

Funding Agency: FWO PhD grant


Bootstrapping operations in language acquisition: a computational psycholinguistic approach

2015-2018

Abstract: The acquisition of abstract linguistic categories is investigated. Computational models of bootstrapping operations are constructed in order to investigate how knowledge from one domain can be instrumental in acquiring knowledge of another domain. In our simulations the language addressed to very young children is used in an attempt to elucidate how grammatical categories and grammatical gender are acquired given a combination of distributional, phonological and morphological bootstrapping.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis Walter Daelemans
Researchers:
  • Giovanni Cassani Robert Grimm

Funding Agency: Special Research Fund (BOF) University of Antwerp


Stress and rhythm in early speech productions of hearing and congenitally deaf children with a cochlear implant: A longitudinal study

2014-2017

Abstract: The research project has two main objectives: - Study the acquisition of stress and rhythm in the period when children produce canonical babling and their first identifiable words; - Study the acquisition of those phenomena in two populations, viz. in infants with normal hearing and infants with acquired hearing. The latter group consists of congenitally deaf children who received a cochlear implant early in life.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Michele Pettinato

Funding Agency: Special Research Fund (BOF) University of Antwerp


Speech accuracy in young children: hearing and hearing impaired toddlers with a cochlear implant.

2013-2017

Abstract: How accurate is the speech (word productions) of children in the first stages of lexical development (before age two)? How accurate is the speech of congenitally deaf children fitted with a cochlear implant (CI) in the same age range, or at the same stage of language acquisition? It is expected that the speech accuracy of CI children lags behind that of typically developing children without hearing impairment (Flipsen & Parker 2008). If that is the case, do CI children eventually catch up at a later age? In order to assess these questions on the basis of phonetic transcriptions of children’s spontaneous speech, we need to decide what is actually meant with “accuracy”, and how it can be measured using transcribed speech. In the acquisition literature various measures have been proposed, including PCC (Shriberg et al. 1997), pMLU (Ingram 2002), WSSA (Preston et al. 2011). General distance metrics, such as Levenshtein distance, or Maximum Likelihood measures (Sanders & Chin 2009, Nerbonne & Kleiweg 2007) are also useful. These measures are used to assess the development of speech accuracy of both groups of children. Especially for the first stages of phonological development, it is expected that the word productions of both groups of children deviate considerably from the adult model, as illustrated by phonological process analyses (Stoel-Gammon & Sosa 2009). But how can this be explained? For NH children, this phenomenon was recently explained in terms of phonological representations (Vihman & Croft 2007), constraint ranking and distributional patterns in the ambient language (Fikkert & Levelt 2006). For CI children, analyses of phonological “error patterns” have hardly been characterized (but see Chin 2007, Warner-Czyz et al. 2010).

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Jolien Faes

Funding Agency: FWO (Research Foundation - Flanders)


MORLAS: Morphosyntactic language skills in deaf children with a cochlear implant: a cross-linguistic study on Dutch and German

2012-2013

Abstract: Children born deaf, or deafened at an early age, with a total or near-total sensorineural hearing loss (i.e. characterized by a malfunctioning cochlea) are unable to acquire language through audition and depend on a visual mode of communication. With the development of a new technology, the cochlear implant, these children can be given access to the auditory information that is essential for spoken language development. Currently, there are about 80.000 people with a cochlear implant in Europe, of whom more than half are children. The highest relative number of implanted children (i.e. per million of inhabitants) can be found in Austria, followed by Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium (EURO-CIU Newsletter, May 2011 – yearly inquiry supplement). A cochlear implant (CI) is an implantable electronic device that bypasses the cochlea by means of direct stimulation of the auditory nerve, providing the sensation of hearing. In contrast to conventional hearing aids, cochlear implants not only amplify sound, but they also aim at a (partial) restoration of the frequency resolution of the cochlea. Thanks to this device, deaf-born children are able to develop oral speech and language (Govaerts et al., 2002; Schauwers et al., 2002, 2005; Niparko et al., 2010). However, there are still many open questions about the nature of speech and language skills of deaf children with a cochlear implant. For instance, previous research on the benefit of the implant has focused mainly on speech perception, i.e. on how well do CI users hear. Far less attention has been paid to speech and language production which is equally important for evaluating the child’s language skills (Schauwers et al., 2005). Moreover, little is known about the “long term” development, i.e. the language achievement of young implanted CI children when they are at school age. This is especially relevant in view of the fact that more and more CI children are being integrated into the main stream school system (Venail et al., 2010). Hence, it is important to see how the speech and language skills of children with a cochlear implant (CI) compare to those of normally hearing (NH) peers, not only at the early stages after implantation, but also later, i.e. at school age. The project will investigate speech and language skills of CI children at the onset of their school career. The project will focus on CI children’s achievements in a major aspect of language, its morphosyntax. Gaining command of the full range of morphosyntactic features of a language requires highly sophisticated processing abilities and still constitutes a major challenge even for normally hearing children when they enter primary school.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Sabine Laaha

Funding Agency: FP7, MARIE CURIE ACTIONS: PEOPLE


AYNP: Antwerp Yiddish Noun Plurals

2012-2013

Abstract: The project will explore structure and acquisition in contemporary Yiddish used by the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox (UO) community in Antwerp, Belgium. This community lives in a unique multilingual situation that includes three main languages; Yiddish and Dutch - two living languages competing as native tongues, and Loshn Koydesh(Classical Hebrew) - restricted only for praying and not used for daily communication. Our window onto native Antwerp Yiddish is the system of noun plurals, whereby a singular noun (e.g. kind 'child') takes on a plural suffix (kinder 'children'). The aim of the project is two-fold: First, to describe the system of noun plurals as it is currently used by adults, taking into account the intensive contact with Dutch, and second, to understand how this system is acquired by children from the same community. In order to achieve these aims, the project will include two phases: the first is the Baseline Study, in which a confrontational noun plural naming task will be administered to 100 Antwerp Yiddish speaking adults. Data analyses will describe and explain the properties of the plural system in Antwerp Yiddish. This baseline will serve as the basis for the second phase of our project – the Developmental Study, in which 100 UO children in five age groups (3, 5, 7, 9, 11) will be administered two tasks: (1) a structured noun plural naming test and (2) a semi-structured naming test based on a set of pictures. Data will be analyzed according to methods of quantification of morphological diversity as well as quantitative normalization procedures in corpus analysis. Thus, this project will enable an international collaboration between the applicant's research experience in the Israeli context, and the linguistic expertise available in Antwerp University. This interdisciplinary cooperation will facilitate transfer of knowledge and training skills for the benefit of the applicant's career development and the enrichment of the European research area.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Netta Abugov

Funding Agency: FP7, MARIE CURIE ACTIONS: PEOPLE


Child-directed speech and language development: hearing children of different SES backgrounds and deaf children with a cochlear implant.

2011-2014

Abstract: How can we explain the apparently delayed language development of children whose parents can be said to have a low socioeconomic status (lowSES)? Why does a child with, say, a mother who is on public assistance have a poorer language proficiency than a child with a mother who has a university degree and a professional occupation? Previous research has shown that the linguistic environment (the language the child hears, the conversations and interactions that adult and child have) of the lowSES child is “poorer” than that of a mid-to-high SES child. In this project we want to test the hypothesis that this relative poverty of the input is already manifest during the prelinguistic and early linguistic stages of language acquisition: particular aspects of the input make the discrimination of sounds more difficult, and make the segmentation of speech into sounds, and words, and phrases much more difficult. For this purpose we collect and analyze spontaneous interactions between children and adults from a lowSES background, and compare them with analogous material from children from a mid-to-high background, and from deaf children with a cochlear implant whose parents are thought to be especially motivated to provide an “optimal” linguistic input.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis International copromotors: - Dorit Ravid (Tel Aviv University) - W.U. Dressler (Austrian Academy of Sciences and University of Vienna)
Researchers:
  • Liesbeth Vanormelingen

Funding Agency: FWO (Research Foundation - Flanders)


Relative adjectives in Dutch child language

2009-2010

Abstract: This project investigates the acquisition of relative adjectives (e.g. groot, oud, warm) by Dutch-speaking children. Semanticists have shown that relative adjectives evoke open scales with the pivotal region – norm – in the middle. Due to the relevance of a classspecific norm, we may call a cat big and an elephant small, even though a cat is much smaller than an elephant. Open scale structure explains why relative adjectives cannot be used in combinations like helemaal làng. Although relative terms are among the first adjectives emerging in child language, we still do not know how exactly children arrive at the adult scale structure outlined above. The scarce evidence available presents a highly controversial picture and is exclusively based on the English data. The proposed research seeks to bridge this gap by pursuing the following questions: 1. When do Dutch-speaking children start using the category-specific norm in the interpretation of relative adjectives? 2. Is the ability to use the norm influenced by the ontological status and prototypicality of the described objects? 3. How is the knowledge of the linguistically relevant scale structure acquired? These questions will be addressed by combining experimental methods with the analysis of longitudinal transcripts.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Elena Tribushinina

Funding Agency: Rubicon: NWO (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek)


Speech and language acquisition in Dutch speaking children with different degrees of hearing: Hearing children and deaf children with a cochlear implant.

2006-2009

Abstract: The aim of this project is to investigate segmental, intrasyllabic and intersyllabic co-occurrence patterns in prelexical babbling, and the acquisition of phonological segments and patterns in the early lexical period. Longitudinal data of deaf children with a cochlear implant (implanted in the first/second year of life) will be compared with those of a hearing age matched cohort in order to establish if they develop language in the same sequence and according to the same patterns as hearing children, and whether the delay that older implanted children show in reaching language acquisition milestones, still exists for the very early implanted children.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
    Paul Govaerts
Researchers:
  • Inge Molemans
    Renate Van den Berg
    Lieve Van Severen

Funding Agency: Special Research Fund (BOF) University of Antwerp


Acoustic phonetic analysis of the speech of very young children with a cochlear implant.

2005-2009

Abstract: The aim of this project is to investigate acoustic-phonetic characteristics of the speech of young congenitally deaf children who received a cochlear implant in their first year of life. In particular the acoustic characteristics of their babbling will be investigated in order to detect discrepancies with the babbling of hearing infants. In addition we will analyze spontaneous speech of these children at the age of six, and investigate whether it displays the typical characteristics of 'deaf speech', and we will try to relate these characteristics to the infants' vocalizations in their first year of life.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
    Paul Govaerts
Researchers:
  • Oydis Hide

Funding Agency: Special Research Fund (BOF) University of Antwerp


Uitspraakvariatie in het Standaardnederlands: sjwa-insertie in Vlaanderen en Nederland.
Variation in the pronounciation of Standard Dutch: schwa epenthesis in Flanders and The Netherlands.

2005-2008

Abstract: Dit project beoogt de studie van sjwa-insertie in gesproken Standaardnederlands. Met sjwa-insertie wordt bedoeld: de invoeging van een sjwa in heterorganische consonantenclusters aan het woordeinde (bv. melk > mellek, dorp > dorrep) en middenin het woord (bv. werken > werreken, kalme > kalleme). Sjwa-insertie kan in verband worden gebracht met verschillende intra- en extralinguïstische factoren. Zo verbinden fonologen sjwa-insertie met factoren als klemtoon, syllabestructuur, de samenstelling van het consonantencluster en het aantal syllaben in het woord. Ook factoren als spreeksnelheid, woordfrequentie en de kwaliteit van de liquida zouden een rol kunnen spelen. Verder is bekend uit dialectstudies dat in de ene regio meer sjwa-insertie voorkomt dan in de andere. Ten slotte zou ook de manier waarop de spraak ontlokt is voor verschillen kunnen zorgen. Dit postdocproject wil deze variabelen empirisch onderzoeken en nagaan hoe ze onderling samenhangen. Dit zal gebeuren op basis van een ruime steekproef van sprekers uit verschillende regio's in Vlaanderen en Nederland.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Hanne Kloots (postdoc)

Funding Agency: Fund for Scientific Reasearch - Flanders (FWO)


Lexical and morphosyntactic development in young children with a cochlear implant : A crosslinguistic study of Dutch and Hebrew.

2005-2008

Abstract: The first aim of this project is to study patterns of productive spoken language acquisition in children who received a CI early in their second year of life. The children's language acquisition will be compared with that of a matched group of normaly hearing (NH) chiljren.
The second aim of the project is to study language acquisition crosslinguistically: language acquisition will be compared of chldren acquiring Dutch and Hebrew as their native language.
In the language specific part of the project as well as in the crosslinguistic part, we will focus on the following aspects:
-The study of early lexical and morphosyntactic development of children with a Cochear Implantation (inl)lantation age: between 1 ;0 and 1 ;06);
-Comparison of CI children with normal hearing children of the sam age/level of language acquisition;
-Comparison of CI children and NH children's development in two typologically different languages, viz. Dutch and Hebrew, which enables the testing of specific hypotheses concerning the mechanisms of language acquisition.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
    Paul Govaerts
    Dorit Ravid (Tel Aviv University)
Researchers:
  • Agnita Souman

Funding Agency: Fund for Scientific Reasearch - Flanders (FWO)


A constructivist analysis of 'fillers' in Dutch child language.

2004-2007

Abstract: Young children often insert 'fillers' in their first multiwordutterances: vocalizations that do not correspond to conventional words. For instance, it is hard to determine the meaning of the syllables [m] and [\] in utterance (a). Fillers often have the shape of a syllabic nasal or a schwa, as in utterances (a) and (b). But sometimes they consist of several syllables, as in utterance (c).

(a) [m] pick ['] flowers (English learning boy, age 1;6; from Peters and Menn, 1993)
(b) ['] oiseau ['] vole (Frensh learning girl, age 1; from Veneziano and Sinclair, 2000)
(c) [lala] open door (English learning girl, age 1;10; from Feldman and Menn, 2003)
Fillers typically occur at positions that are occupied by function morphemes in the adult language (like articles or pronouns). They are instantiations of an important language learning mechanism that has only recently been recognized as such: 'form-driven' learning. 'Form-driven' learning entails that the child first acquires the form, and gets full grips on the meaning and function of this form only later on. In other words, the child has discovered sound material at particular positions in the input, but has not yet analyzed the form and the function of this material accurately. Nevertheless, the child tries to integrate these elements in her own speech utterances. Little by little the child discovers the full distribution, function and shape of what turns out to be function morphemes. This learning mechanism contrasts with function-driven acquisition, as is proposed by nativist theories: morphosyntactic acquisition is interpreted as a self-unfolding plan of morphosyntactic functions that need to be stuffed with lexical material.

Until now, fillers in Dutch child language have not yet been studied (except in the limited analysis of Wijnen et al., 1994). The aim of this research project is to investigate the role of fillers in the acquisition of Dutch, and to analyze the mechanism of 'form-driven' learning from a constructivist perspective on language acquisition.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Helena Taelman (postdoc)

Funding Agency: Fund for Scientific Reasearch - Flanders (FWO)


Syntactic aspects of the impaired acquisition of determiners.

2004-2007

Abstract: x

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Martine Coene (postdoc)

Funding Agency: Fund for Scientific Reasearch - Flanders (FWO)


FLaVoR : Flexible Large Vocabulary Recognition : Incorporating linguistic knowledge sources through a modular recogniser architecture.

2002-2006

Abstract: In this project we investigate whether the 'all-in-one' strategy currently used in speech recognizers, in which task-specific, syntactic, and lexical knowledge are fused into a single model based on simple formalisms, can be replaced by a modular architecture in which apart from acoustic-phonetic and intonational features, also generic and domain-specific linguistic information sources can be used.

Leaders:
  • Walter Daelemans
    Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Evie Coussé
    Guy De Pauw
    Kim Luyckx

Funding Agency: IWT - GBOU


Reduction Phenomena in present-day Standard Dutch in Flanders and the Netherlands.

2001-2005

Abstract: The aim of this project is the study of reduction phenomena in spontaneous (= non-read) Standard Dutch. Reduction is studied in mono-, bi- and trisyllabic words, especially in pronouns, suffixes and loan words. We use speech that is already collected, digitalized and transcribed for the Corpus Gesproken Nederlands (Spoken Dutch Corpus), and as a part of the VNC-project Variation in the pronunciation of Standard Dutch. The VNC-speech consists of interviews with teachers of Dutch. From the Corpus Gesproken Nederlands, three components are selected: speeches, (non-read) lectures and lessons from high school teachers (except for Dutch lessons). These three types of spontaneous speech are fully comparable: it is non-broadcast speech, produced by one speaker before an audience. A more specific aim of this project is to verify the claim that the pronunciation of highly educated speakers without linguistic training differs from the pronunciation of teachers of Dutch, who are often considered to be prototypical speakers of Standard Dutch. This project links up with the renewed interest in standard language, where variation patterns in Standard Dutch in Flanders and the Netherlands are studied from a perspective of convergence and divergence. This study is also in line with international research of variation in standard languages, e.g. in German (e.g. Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and in French (e.g. France, Canada, Belgium).

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis

    Georges De Schutter
Researchers:
  • Hanne Kloots

Funding Agency: Fund for Scientific Reasearch - Flanders (FWO)


Children's acquisition of phonotactic and prosodic knowledge: an empirist, inductive alternative for current nativist, deductive approaches.

2001-2004

Abstract: Optimality Theory (OT) is the central paradigm in current theorizing about phonological acquisition. OT is a deductive model: (a priori) linguistic knowledge is represented in the child's linguistic (grammatical) competence. In this project we explore an empirist, inductive alternative for this approach. An empirist, inductive model is defined as a model in which the mental lexicon is central in acquisition. Linguistic knowledge is collected and stored in the lexicon.
The contrast between grammatical system and lexicon will be developed in according to four core dimensions:
1. Rules versus analogy
2. Stages versus lexical diffusion
3. Minimal versus maximal role for input
4. Competence versus processing
We focus on the acquisition of phonotactic and prosodic knowledge, because these two areas are often presented as examples of deductive acquisition.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
Researchers:
  • Helena Taelman (predoc)

Funding Agency: Fund for Scientific Reasearch - Flanders (FWO)


Language acquisition by children with cochlear implants: A longitudinal investigation

2001-2004

Abstract: In this project we study the auditory development, the speech and language acquisition in congenital deaf children with a cochlear implant (CI) implanted during their second year of life. Our aim is to systematically investigate the effect of the CI on different aspects of language and speech development:
- The effect of a CI on the auditory level;
- The effect of a CI on the articulatory level (the speech);
- The effect of a CI on language acquisition and communicative development.
In essence, we want to investigate how access to the auditory information evolves and what impact that access to spoken language has on the child's own spontaneous speech and language.

Leaders:
  • Steven Gillis
    Walter Daelemans
    Paul Govaerts
    Erwin Offeciers
Researchers:
  • Karen Schauwers

Funding Agency: Fund for Scientific Reasearch - Flanders (FWO)


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