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Research Seminar : " From Sound to Sense in Speech Interaction -Theory and Methodology of Phoneti...
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Topic:  Research Seminar : " From Sound to Sense in Speech Interaction -Theory and Methodology of Phonetics as a Communication Science"
posted itemPosted - 25/04/2008 :  10:50:48
City University of Hong Kong Dep

Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
Research Seminar

From Sound to Sense in Speech Interaction - Theory and Methodology of Phonetics as a Communication Science

Presented by

Prof. Klaus J. Kohler

Editor of Phonetica Director of Institute of Phonetics and Digital Speech Processing, University of Kiel, Germany

Date: 25 Apr 2008, Friday
Time: 4:30pm - 6:00pm
Lecture Theatre 15, 4/F, Academic Building, CityU


Human speech is, on the one hand, based on the language faculty of homo sapiens and on the sociocultural systems of individual languages; on the other hand, it depends on a physical carrier, generated by physiological and articulatory processes, for the transmission of communicative meaning from a speaker to a hearer. Given the traditional division of academic pursuits into the humanities and the natural sciences, two different approaches have shaped the study of speech: linguistics and speech signal analysis. This is in itself not a bad thing, as long as the two paradigms converge in the analysis and understanding of speech communication. But if they proceed in opposition to each other and lose sight of their common communicative goal, their separate endeavours may turn into futile discussions. This is what has happened in speech science. By a sheer historical accident, a dichotomy between phonetics and phonology developed at the beginning of the 20th c. when the first instrumental and experimental phoneticians failed to integrate their measurements into the descriptive framework developed by linguists, because they regarded them as more objective and therefore superior, and this dichotomy has stayed with us ever since resulting in uninteresting disputes, from the point of view of speech communication, whether some phenomenon of speech is phonetic or phonological. This dichotomy must be seen as a purely academic frame of reference which should not be invested as a reality in the speech communication process, and it is therefore equally uninteresting and futile to devise interfaces between the science and the humanities side of this construct. We need to develop phonetics as a unitary communicative speech science, in which every phenomenon may be studied from 4 perspectives that must converge on the central goal to understand how humans communicate with speech in languages:

linguistic categorization speech signal analysis speech perception and understanding communicative function   The paradigm of laboratory phonology is not such a unitary frame because it concentrates on speech production, filling pre-established phonological categories with physiological, articulatory and acoustic measurement values and their inferential statistical evaluation, without due concern for their relevance to the listener and for their functions in communicative situations. I shall illustrate how phonology and phonetics have been dealing with segments and prosodies in frames of reference that have largely disregarded real speech interaction with its ties to speech perception and understanding, and to communicative function. I shall contrast the traditional paradigm with a new theoretical and methodological orientation that looks at segments and prosodies at the level of utterances in relation to the communication of meaning between speakers and listeners in variable communicative situations. For this contrastive comparison, I shall select - phonemes and their phonetic substantiation in word citation versus utterance-level phonetics in speaker-hearer interaction - the study of rhythm in language and speech as a typology of stress and syllable timing versus a guiding function in speech interaction.   The illustrations will be mainly from English, but I would like to see this new orientation extended to structurally completely different languages, such as tone languages Mandarin and Cantonese. So, this talk is also a plea to Chinese scholars not only to look at their languages through the old phonetics-phonology spectacles but to get themselves a new pair of glasses that sharpen their vision for phonetics as a communication science and thus provide new insights into how speech communication works in the languages of the world.


Prof. Klaus J. Kohler’s research interests include: intonation, rhythm and timing; sound reduction and elaboration in different speaking styles, including spontaneous speech, focus on German and English, but also other languages of the world; contrastive phonetics and phonology; typology and universals of connected speech; text to speech synthesis of German; acoustic data bases of German: data recording, segmental and prosodic labelling, data processing, data bank structures. He is currently Director of Institute of Phonetics and Digital Speech Processing, University of Kiel, Germany, and Chief Editor of Phonetica – International Journal of Phonetic Science.

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