Bob Ladd: Research interests

References below are linked to entries on my publications page, some of which are then linked to the papers (I'm working on the rest).

Alignment of pitch and segmentals     Laboratory Phonology     Tone Languages    Language and music


Intonation and prosody

From the time of my PhD until about the beginning of the new century, my research was focused on intonation and prosody. My Cornell PhD thesis was published in book form by Indiana University Press as The Structure of Intonational Meaning (1980). Probably the most important parts of the thesis were the chapters on accent placement, focus, deaccenting, etc. (see also 1980, 1983b). About the same time I presented a paper (1981) at the Chicago Linguistics Society about the intonation of English tag questions, in which I made an informal proposal about the semantics of negative questions that has subsequently acquired a life of its own in the formal semantics literature (in work by e.g. Han and Romero, Gunlogson, Holmberg, and Krifka).

However, after moving to Europe in 1981 I did little more on intonational meaning and pragmatics, except for a chapter in my book Intonational Phonology (and except insofar as my ideas about intonational meaning influenced the experimental work on intonation and emotion we did in Klaus Scherer's lab in Giessen, e.g. 1984c, 1985). Instead, much of my work has concentrated on intonational phonetics and phonology. One aspect of the phonetic work was the development of a model for synthetic intonation during my first several years in Edinburgh, in collaboration with others at the Centre for Speech Technology Research (CSTR), in particular Alex Monaghan. More important for my later work was a continuing theoretical critique of certain features of the mainstream Pierrehumbert analysis of English and its offshoot ToBI (e.g. 1983a, 1986, 1990a, 1993b , 2003a). A third aspect was experimental work on various aspects of intonational phonetics, especially pitch range (1985, 1988, 1997) and, somewhat later, the alignment of pitch and segmental features (1998, 2000b, 2003a, 2004, 2005, 2006a, 2006b, 2006d, 2009a, 2009b).

Much of this work was brought together in my book Intonational Phonology, first published in 1996 by Cambridge University Press. A second edition of this book appeared in late 2008, and summarises most of what I have to say about intonation and prosody. The second edition includes new material on instrumental phonetic research on intonation and on the rapid developments in ToBI transcription systems, and has an associated web resource with sound files for all the examples in the book. (When you get to the web page, click on "Resources" - the sound files are then arranged by chapter.)

A kind of outgrowth of the book is a tutorial paper (2008d) on prosodic fieldwork, by Nikolaus Himmelmann and myself, which appeared in Language Documentation and Conservation. A more recent outgrowth (2015a) is a short historical note on the four-level American structuralist analysis of intonation, which appeared in Historiographica Linguistica.

Alignment of pitch and segmentals

My work on the alignment of pitch features with the segmental string was part of three externally-funded projects:

· A project on the phonetics and phonology of Greek intonation, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (1995-97; co-principal investigators were myself and Amalia Arvaniti and the research associate was Ineke Mennen). The first paper from this project, which has been widely cited, appeared in Journal of Phonetics (1998); more recent publications include one on intonation and focus in Greek yes/no questions in Speech Communication (2006b) and one on the phonology and phonetics of "rising-falling" intonation contours in Language and Speech (2006d). A final paper (2009b) on the intonation of WH-questions appeared in Phonology. There are also some single-authored papers by Arvaniti.

· Growing out of the work on the Greek project, a project on the alignment of pitch targets in Dutch and English, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (1998-2001; co-PIs were myself and Ineke Mennen; the main paid researcher on the project was Astrid Schepman; from September 2000 the work was carried on by Robin Lickley). Two major papers from this project appeared in JASA (1999 and 2000b), three in Journal of Phonetics (2003a, 2004, 2006a), and one in Language and Speech (2005).

· In conjunction with the Dutch project, a project on alignment and vowel length in Scottish and Southern British English, funded in part by a small grant from the British Academy. A paper (2009a) on this work appeared in Journal of Phonetics.

Beyond intonation

Throughout my career I have been involved in research on topics other than intonation and prosody, and since about 2005 these other interests have taken precedence in my work.

Laboratory phonology

Perhaps most importantly, I have been involved in the development of Laboratory Phonology. I was co-organiser (with Gerry Docherty) of the Second Conference on Laboratory Phonology in Edinburgh in 1989 (published in book form in 1992), and I have seen much of my experimental work on intonation as a contribution to phonology (especially 1990b, 1993a, 1993b, 1998, 2000b, 2000c, 2003a, 2004). During the 1990s, in collaboration with Jim Scobbie of Queen Margaret University, I carried out a study of consonant duration in Sardinian (finally published as 2003b), which is relevant to phonological theories of assimilation and gemination. Growing out of this work I have also been interested theoretical issues related to surface contrast (2000a, 2006c). This interest is the background to my chapter on "phonetics in phonology" (2011) in the second edition of Blackwell's Handbook of Phonological Theory. My most recent project in this area is a paper (in press) on Italian vowel contrasts with Peggy Renwick of the University of Georgia. Other current laboratory phonology work includes a paper (in press) on segment-related perturbations of fundamental frequency, with my Edinburgh colleague James Kirby, and a related project on "voicing" and segmental perturbations in Swiss German with Stephan Schmid of the University of Zurich.

The handbook chapter on "phonetics in phonology" was reprinted in my 2014 book Simultaneous Structure in Phonology. This book is the belated fruit of a research leave in 2007-08, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and brings together essays on the interaction of the different streams of information in the speech signal. An unexpected outgrowth of my work on this book was a collaboration with Pascal Belin and Patricia Bestelmeyer (both formerly of the University of Glasgow) on the neural processing mechanisms involved in the perception of social and regional accents; a paper on this work appeared in Cerebral Cortex in 2015.

Tone languages

Nilotic prosody From September 2005 to December 2008 I was - nominally at least - Principal Investigator on a project on stress and tone in Nilotic languages, in particular Dinka and Shilluk. The project was the initiative of Bert Remijsen, who was officially a Research Associate on the project but in practice was in charge of much of the project's work. Leoma Gilley of SIL and Caguor Adong Manyang of the University of Bahr El-Ghazal in Southern Sudan were also involved in the project, as was Peter Ladefoged until his death in January 2006. A paper (2008c) on the Dinka tone system by Remijsen and Ladd appeared in Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. A paper on Dinka quantity contrasts by Remijsen and Gilley appeared in JPhon; a general sketch of the phonetics of the Luanyjang dialect by Remijsen and Manyang in JIPA; and a short report on irregularity in noun number morphology (2009c) by Ladd, Remijsen and Manyang appeared in Language. I also developed ideas about possible improvements to Dinka orthography, summarised in a paper posted here.

Tone, Genes and Pitch Processing During much of 2005-06, I was engaged in a project with Dan Dediu on the relation between the geographical distribution of tone languages and the geographical distribution of the adaptive haplogroups of the two brain size genes ASPM and Microcephalin-1. This was entirely speculative unfunded research of the sort that used to be normal in universities but is now marginalised by the idea that the only research that counts is research that attracts outside funding. On my part it involved correspondence and discussion with fieldworkers (and digging through published sources) on roughly 40 languages spoken by 49 Old World populations; on Dan's part it involved trawling through publicly available genetic databases for information on the same 49 populations and running extremely complex statistical analyses. The project would never have been fundable through conventional sources, but the results were published in PNAS (2007a) and attracted considerable attention; more information can be found here. A commentary paper by Dan, Anna Kinsella and myself on the implications of this research appeared in March 2008 in the new online journal Biolinguistics. Dan is now at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and our collaboration is continuing. The most recent products of this collaboration are a paper (with several others) on individual differences in the perception of pitch in missing-fundamental tones (2013a), a paper (also with several others) on factors affecting the ability to use tonal information in an artificial-language implicit learning task, a review paper (with co-author Seán Roberts), and most recently a commentary on the proposal by Caleb Everett et al. that tone languages are more likely in areas of high humidity because humid air permits more precise laryngeal control of pitch. I tie some of these strands together in this talk.

Language and Music

Music has mostly remained on the fringes of my research, but the connection between music and the use of pitch in language - intonation and tone - is hard to ignore. I presented a talk on the different structuring of pitch range in speech and music at a symposium marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of Lerdahl and Jackendoff's Generative Theory of Tonal Music in 2008. I became more formally involved in music research when the Nilotic prosody project was succeeded in January 2009 by a new project on "Metre and Melody in Dinka Speech and Song", funded within the AHRC's "Beyond Text" programme. (Our section of the official Beyond Text web site is here.) Co-investigators on this project were Angela Impey of SOAS and Miriam Meyerhoff of Wellington (formerly of Edinburgh). Once again the project was run primarily by Bert Remijsen. We also had collaborators in Sudan (after July 2011, in South Sudan), including Peter Malek, Elizabeth Achol Deng, and Simon Yak Deng Yak. Major outputs include a book of children's songs (with a CD) aimed at promoting literacy in Dinka, a demo CD of Dinka songs, and a large collection of Dinka songs in the British Library's Sound Archive. I presented a paper on interactions between musical melody and linguistic tone at a workshop in Vienna in July 2012; a more recent spoken version of this paper is here.

The topic of music/tone interactions is the subject of a current AHRC Early Career Fellowship for my Edinburgh colleague James Kirby, with me as named mentor. We plan a general paper on the nature of text-setting constraints involved in tone/melody corrspondences in singing in tone languages. As part of this project I have returned to a more detailed study of music/tone interactions in Dinka and expect to be able to publish a paper on this specific topic in due course.

updated September 2016


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