Brown Bag

2019-2020 Talks

LYLE 1150: 12:30-1:30pm

October 28, 2019

David L. Kemmerer, Professor, SLHS

This will be a practice version of an invited talk to be given at a conference in Zurich called “Crosslinguistic Perspectives on Processing and Learning (X-PPL).”

Action verbs across languages and brains:  Some implications of semantic typology for cognitive neuroscience

The branch of cognitive neuroscience that studies conceptual knowledge has been advancing rapidly, but it has largely neglected parallel developments in semantic typology, which focuses on similarities and differences in the lexical and grammatical representation of meaning across the roughly 6,500 languages in the world.  With the aim of building some interdisciplinary bridges, I will describe three different kinds of crosslinguistic diversity in the meanings of action verbs, and consider their implications for research on the neural substrates of action concepts.

October 14, 2019

STEER LECTURE, Sandra Gordon-Salant Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences University of Maryland at College Park

Factors influencing speech perception in older adults

As people age, they often experience considerable difficulty in understanding speech accurately, but there is large variability in performance.  This variability derives, in part, from different listener attributes that may pre-dispose the listener to relatively good or poor performance.  Other factors that contribute to the variability in speech understanding of older listeners include the talker’s speaking style and the characteristics of the listening environment.  Thus, a framework for considering the interaction between listener, talker, and situational attributes is critical for unraveling the nature of an individual older listener’s difficulty in understanding speech. 

The first part of this presentation will review the relative importance of three listener attributes that are thought to contribute to speech understanding performance of older listeners in degraded listening conditions: hearing sensitivity, auditory temporal processing abilities, and cognitive capacity.  Undoubtedly, the principal source of older listeners’ difficulty understanding speech is reduced signal audibility that accompanies age-related hearing loss. However, other factors have been shown to contribute to speech understanding problems of older listeners as well.  One of these factors is an age-related decline in the ability to process critical timing information in sound. The importance of auditory temporal processing for recognizing brief speech sounds as well as perceiving supra-segmental aspects of spoken messages will be considered.  Another factor, age-related decline in cognitive abilities (i.e.,working memory and processing speed), will also be discussed as they relate to interpreting older listeners’ performance in difficult speech understanding tasks. 

The second part of the presentation will emphasize selected research findings from speech perception studies that compare older and younger adults’ performance for understanding speech presented in different listening environments (noise, reverberation, visual distraction), as well as for different types of talkers (those who speak at a fast rate or with a foreign accent).  The relative importance of hearing sensitivity, auditory temporal processing abilitites, and cognitive capacity, as well as listener experience, in relation to performance for these types of challenging listening conditions will be highlighted.  The presentation will culminate in a discussion of the implicaitons of these findings for speech understanding in everyday listening situations by older people. 

September 23, 2019  

Justin B. Kueser, Ph.D. student, SLHS

The Effects of Frequency and Predictability on Repetition in Children with Developmental Language Disorder

Purpose: Studies have shown that children with typical development (TD) respond to frequency and predictability when repeating nonidiomatic multiword sequences (e.g., go wash your hands). We extended these findings by explicitly examining the interaction between frequency and predictability in a repetition task for children with developmental language disorder (DLD) and children with TD.

Method: We created 48 four-word phrases, manipulating two factors: the frequency of occurrence of the entire four-word phrase (e.g., early in the morning vs. early in the story) and the predictability of the fourth word in the phrase given the preceding three words (e.g., look in the mirror vs. throw me the ball). These phrases were presented in a repetition task to 17 children with DLD (M age = 58.89 months), 19 same-age children with TD (M age = 59.79 months), and 17 younger children with TD matched to the DLD group on nonword repetition and mean length of utterance (M age = 38.94 months). Children’s repetitions were judged for the presence or absence of word and morphological errors. Only the first three words of the sequence were scored (e.g., early in the). 

Results: We found a main effect of frequency, with high-frequency sequences being repeated more accurately than low-frequency sequences, modulated by a significant interaction with predictability, where the effect of frequency was larger for high-predictability sequences than for low-predictability sequences. We also found a marginally significant interaction between group and frequency, with children with DLD demonstrating a larger effect of frequency, particularly when compared to the same-aged group with TD.

Conclusions: Frequency and predictability are strong predictors of language production in children. Frequency has particularly strong effects for children with DLD, raising important clinical questions about the design of facilitative contexts for the teaching of difficult linguistic forms.

September 16, 2019

Hari Bharadwaj, Asst. Professor (SLHS/BME) 

Co-authors: Sheraz Khan, Tal Kenet, and Matti Hamalainen (Mass. General Hospital)

Complex Auditory Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorders: From Synapse to Symptoms to Biomarkers 

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are neurodevelopmental syndromes classically characterized by atypical social communication. More recently, atypical sensory-based behaviors, particularly the experience of sensory overload and difficulty with auditory selective attention (sometimes called “filtering” in the ASD literature) are being recognized as ubiquitous in this population. Evidence from genetics, molecular neurophysiology, and systems neuroscience suggest that inhibitory (GABAergic) signaling in the brain may be anomalous. However, how the anomalous neuronal biophysics leads to perceptual problems is poorly understood. Based on computational modeling studies, we hypothesized that the anomalous inhibitory signaling in ASD may impair the brain’s sensitivity to the temporal coherence of sensory elements. In the case of auditory environments with multiple sound sources, this could lead to difficulties in recognizing the separate sources of sound as distinct, which in turn can (partly) account for the observed sensory overload and atypical attention. This presentation will describe our efforts to test this hypothesis using Magnetoencephalography (MEG), and discuss the possibility of translating our measures to passive biomarkers that can be obtained with the same setup as used for newborn hearing screenings.

September 9, 2019

Arielle Borovsky, Associate Professor, SLHS

Predictive processing in a less predictable world

Although researchers often explore how predictive mechanisms support language processing in well known (i.e. predictable) contexts, a great deal of communication conveys novel (i.e. less predictable) information. Similarly, children, who are simultaneously learning about language and the world, may experience enhanced uncertainty during language processing.  Given the ubiquity of uncertainty during everyday language processing, to what extent can we rely on prediction as a plausible and central mechanism in language processing across development? 

I explore this tension between predictive processing and uncertainty in several studies that measure whether and how adult and child listeners deploy predictive mechanisms while learning about new events. Together, these studies paint a broad picture that flexibility in predictive processing develops over a protracted developmental period. I will argue that by incorporating developmental insights and learning paradigms into studies of linguistic prediction, we can develop more nuanced models of how and when prediction supports everyday communication and learning.

August 26, 2019

Sabrina Horvath, Ph.D., CCC-SLP Post-doctoral Fellow, SLHS

The verb vocabularies of late talkers

Verb knowledge constitutes an important piece of language acquisition, given the role that verbs play in the development of morphosyntax. Conversely, differences in verb vocabulary may exacerbate broader deficits in children with or at risk for language disorder. This talk explores the verb vocabularies of late talkers, who are defined by their atypically small expressive vocabularies and who are at increased risk for DLD. In a series of studies, I explore 1) whether there are differences in verb vocabulary composition between late talkers and typically developing children, and 2) whether late talkers use the same cues to acquire verb meaning as typically developing children. Results indicate that, as compared to age-matched peers, late talkers have subtle differences in their vocabulary composition, and they are not as successful at acquiring new verb vocabulary. Together, these studies provide new insights into late talkers’ knowledge of verbs, which may ultimately explain differences in long-term outcomes.




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