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LMU speech scientist wins major ERC grant

Munich, 12/05/2011

LMU phonetician and speech scientist Professor Jonathan Harrington (Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing) has been selected to receive one of the coveted Advanced Investigators Grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). Harrington is the only representative of the humanities among the four LMU researchers who was successful in the latest round of ERC awards. ERC Advanced Grants are awarded for five years and are worth up to 2.5 million euros. The awards are intended for European researchers who have already produced outstanding work, and designed to give them the scope to pursue highly innovative long-term projects.

Jonathan Harrington’s Project
Language is not a static entity but evolves: sound change which can be related to variation in different contexts is ubiquitous in the world's languages. In his ERC project, Harrington will investigate the origins of sound change. In so doing, he will pursue a new line of research by establishing relationships between language evolution and language acquisition in children. In the relatively long period during which children acquire language, they may be especially prone to make errors in processing speech. The planned investigations will focus on speech sounds and in particular how their transmission between a speaker and hearer can result in long-term sound change. The empirical analysis will include laboratory studies in which the movement and coordination of the vocal organs will be investigated using techniques such as ultrasound in children, adolescents, and adults of diverse first language backgrounds including German, Mandarin-Chinese, and Polish. These measurements will be complemented by studies of speech perception. With these data, the task will be to assess the extent to which the relationship between the production and perception of speech is inherently more unstable and ambiguous than in adults. The main goal of the project will be to develop general laws by which everyday spoken language communication is linked with sound change - the outcome will be a more sophisticated model in which the symbolic and temporal aspects of speech are connected. “Breakthroughs in this area could also have a significant impact on technology; they might help to improve systems for automatic speech recognition by computers, for instance,” says Harrington. At the same time, the speech scientist hopes to use these data to gain a deeper understanding of why certain sounds and or sound combinations are typologically rare in the world's languages.

Professor Jonathan Harrington studied Phonetics and Linguistics at Cambridge University (UK), obtaining a doctorate in Linguistics in 1986. He subsequently conducted research at Edinburgh University (UK) and Macquarie University in Sydney (Australia), before accepting a professorship in Phonetics and Digital Speech Processing at the University of Kiel in 2002. In October 2006 he joined the faculty at LMU Munich as Professor of Phonetics and Digital Speech Processing. Harrington is Director of the Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing at LMU. His research interests include experimental phonetics and phonology, the development of speech databases, and the processes underlying sound change in language evolution.

ERC Advanced Investigators Grants
ERC Advanced Investigators Grants are designed to support highly innovative research, which has the potential to extend significantly the frontiers of existing fields and pioneer the investigation of new areas. Projects are assessed solely on the basis of the scientific stature of their authors and the originality and quality of the proposed research program.

Prof. Dr. Jonathan Harrington
Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing at LMU Munich
Phone: +49 89 / 2180-2758
Fax: +49 89 / 2180-5790

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