Keynote Speakers

Title: Tones, Tunes and the Dynamics of Intonational Categories

Speaker: Jennifer S Cole, Northwestern University, USA


In contemporary linguistic models of intonation, surface pitch contours derive from a sparse specification of tonal primitives, and a fundamental question for this theoretical approach concerns the nature and categorical status of the phonological elements that make up these representations. This remains an open question, even for an intensively studied language like English, due to several factors: analytic challenges in determining the appropriate segmentation and parameterization of the F0 signal, ubiquitous and extensive intra- and inter-speaker variability in the scaling of F0 movements, many-to-many mapping between proposed tonal features (e.g., pitch accents or edge tones) and pragmatic context, and challenges in F0 estimation due to voiceless phones or creaky voice. This talk presents highlights from a series of experiments on American English intonation that seek evidence for categorical variation among phrase-final (‘nuclear’) tunes and their component features–pitch accents, phrase accents, and boundary tones—with data elicited through an intonation imitation paradigm. Quantitative modeling of dynamic F0 trajectories from imitated productions reveals a much smaller number of robust, categorical distinctions in nuclear tunes than is predicted from the prevailing Autosegmental-Metrical (AM) model (Pierrehumbert 1980; see also Ladd 2008). These primary categories distinguish phrase-final high-rising F0 trajectories from other (low-rising, rising-falling, falling) trajectories that end in a lower F0. Additional distinctions emerge, for some speakers, in fine-grained, continuous patterns of F0 variation within each of these two primary categories. Data from perceptual discrimination of model tunes points to the same partitioning of F0 trajectories into primary and secondary tune classes. While these findings have immediate implications for the AM model of American English, they also provide cues to an underlying dynamical system that governs the temporal and scaling patterns of F0 trajectories in all of our data. This talk presents a simple, unified dynamical systems model of the F0 trajectories of pitch accents as a first step in an ongoing project. The proposed dynamical system is based on the empirical F0 trajectories from our production experiments, and captures the small number of categorical distinctions and the finer-grained within-category variation observed in our data. The talk concludes with a discussion of dynamical systems as an analytic framework that introduces a new perspective on the question of categorical vs. gradient phonetic variation, suggesting a shift in focus for future empirical work on intonation in English and other languages, and possible extensions to F0 patterning in tone languages.


Jennifer Cole is a Professor in the Department of Linguistics. Her research investigates the sound patterns of human languages and how speech sounds are used to signal meaning about words, sentences and utterances in everyday communication. Her current work focuses on prosody—the intonation and rhythmic patterns of language—and its role in conveying information about linguistic structure, pragmatic meaning, speaker emotion, and the dynamics of social interaction. Dr. Cole has pioneered methods of prosodic annotation for large speech databases using crowd-sourcing. Her work combines experimental methods with large-scale observational analyses of natural interactions, in English, Hindi-Urdu, Spanish, and many other languages, using computational and statistical modeling with acoustic and behavioral data.

Speaker: James Kirby, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany


James Kirby is a linguist and speech scientist. His research focuses on tone and register, sound change, computational and statistical methods for speech processing, and language and music, with an areal focus on languages of East and Southeast Asia.

He received an MA from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 and completed his PhD at the University of Chicago in 2010 under the supervision of Alan Yu and John Goldsmith. He spent the next 10 years in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh, where he remains an Honorary Fellow. In 2021, he moved to the LMU Munich to take up the Bavarian AI Chair in Spoken Language Processing at the Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing.

He has previously been the recipient of an AHRC Early Career fellowship (2015-2017) to study tonal text-setting, and together with Marc Brunelle, an AHRC Research Grant to investigate the evolution of register in Southeast Asia (2017-2021). He is currently the Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded EVOTONE project, studying the emergence and evolution of linguistic tone.

  • Katie Franich, Harvard University, USA

Title: When East speaks West: Assumptions about Prominence and Intonation in Singapore English

Speaker: TAN Ying Ying, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Many speakers of postcolonial Englishes exhibit anxieties about their own varieties of English, and are often concerned about the perceived “correctness” of their English language usage. Typically, speakers and language pedagogists make observations about how these Englishes exhibit different intonation and/or stress patterns as compared to British or American English. Much work has also been done to suggest that such “deviations” create problems for intelligibility. Yet intelligibility is a perceptual issue, and one knows from a large body of phonetic research that prosody perception is not a straightforward affair. Using Singapore English as a point of reference, this paper looks at prominence and intonation production and perception gathered from a few different studies, and highlights the assumptions and challenges of doing prosody research in sites where multilingualism is the norm. More critically, this paper suggests that prosodic differences in World Englishes need to be embraced without the preconceived, traditional notions of Western “nativeness”.


Ying-Ying Tan is Associate Professor of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She is the first Singaporean to have received the prestigious Fung Global Fellowship from Princeton University. She is a sociophonetician who has published on accents, prosody, and intelligibility, focusing primarily on languages in Singapore.