Dr. Grace Chen-Hsiu KUO graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2013 with a Ph.D. in linguistics with the specialty of phonetics, laboratory phonology and psycholinguistics. After her graduation, she spent a year working as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Linguistics Department of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 2014-2017, she was Assistant Professor at the Department of Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics at Concordia University in Montréal, Québec. She is currently Assistant Professor at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University.
Her research focuses on tone and intonation, syntax-phonology interface, information structure, and prosodic processing. In her dissertation, she examined the perception and acoustic correlates (including voice quality) of different prosodic domains in Taiwanese. Her current research project investigates the individual difference and the role of autistic traits and working memory in nonnative speakers’ prosody perception.
In addition to her research, she has had plenty of experience teaching general phonetics, experimental phonetics, phonology, advanced phonology, experimental linguistics/phonetics, psycholinguistics, field methods, Non-Indo European structures, and language acquisition.
Topic: Perception of Prosodic Prominence and Boundaries by Nonnative Speakers
Nonnative speakers’ acquisition of a foreign language is heavily influenced by the learners’ native language and their foreign language learning experience. Like learning phonemes and phonological rules, nonnative speakers must learn to perceive the fine prosodic differences and establish a new system of stress, rhythmic patterns and intonation when they learn the prosody of the foreign language. The two key issues in the system are prosodic prominence and prosodic boundaries and the acoustic measures relevant to these issues include duration, intensity, pitch and voice quality.
Nonnative speakers’ acquisition of a new sound system is often influenced by the cognitive, social, and psychological factors. Among these factors, the ones emphasizing individual differences have gained growing interest in foreign language development. Working memory and autistic traits are of interest here in that (a) working memory was found closely related to foreign language acquisition, and (b) disordered prosody was found to be a feature of impaired communication, and general population with higher level of autistic traits tended to perceive prosody differently from those with lower level of autistic traits.
There are two goals in this study: (a) to examine the correlations between the acoustic measures and the nonnative speakers’ judgements of prosodic prominence and boundaries, and (b) to discuss the correlations between the perceptual results and the measures of working memory and autistic traits.
A group of nonnative English speakers in Taiwan (N=85) were asked to complete two questionnaires (i.e., the autism-spectrum quotient questionnaire and the working memory questionnaire) and participate in a Rapid Prosody Transcription Task in which they were required to make speeded identifications of prominent words and locations of prosodic juncture. The auditory material was a political speech (“Weekly Addresses” recorded by Barack Obama) transcribed previously for prosodic events using the ToBI (Tones and Break Indices) conventions by trained phoneticians. The results demonstrated that nonnative speakers attach different weights to different acoustic measures in their perception of prosodic prominence and boundaries. Moreover, while neither of the individual difference measures correlate with nonnative speakers’ prosodic boundary perception, working memory seems to be more useful than autistic traits when it comes to their perception of prosodic prominence.