Bob Ladd: Research interests

References below are linked to entries on my publications page


Intonation and prosody

From the time of my PhD until quite recently, my research was focused on intonation and prosody. My 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, 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. 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 (e.g. 1990a). Another aspect 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. 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.

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 2000 this other work has been my major interest.

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); my most recent contribution in this area is a chapter on "phonetics in phonology" (2011) in the second edition of Blackwell's Handbook of Phonological Theory.

From January 2007 to July 2008 I was on an 18-month extended research leave, funded by an Individual Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust. The main goal of this project was to write a book on "Simultaneous and Sequential Structure in Language". Despite many delays, the book (under the title Simultaneous Structure in Phonology) is now out (as of early April 2014). A development of the Leverhulme fellowship was a collaboration with Pascal Belin and Patricia Bestelmeyer of the University of Glasgow on the neural processing mechanisms involved in the perception of social and regional accents.

Nilotic languages

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, and a general sketch of the phonetics of the Luanyjang dialect by Remijsen and Manyang in JIPA. A short report on irregularity in noun number morphology (2009c) by Ladd, Remijsen and Manyang appeared in Language. 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, which formally finished in March 2012. (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 Auckland (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 CD of Dinka songs and a book of children's songs (with a CD) aimed at promoting literacy in Dinka. Fruits of my own work on this project include a paper on possible improvements to Dinka orthography and a paper on interactions between musical melody and linguistic tone, presented at a workshop in Vienna in July 2012, which will soon appear in the proceedings of the workshop.

Language and genes

During much of 2005-06, I was engaged in a research 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. A response to that commentary, by Joshua Bowles, appeared in Biolinguistics in September 2008, together with our reply. Dan is now at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and our collaboration is continuing; the most recent product of our collaboration (with several others) is a paper on individual differences in the perception of pitch in missing-fundamental tones (2013a).

updated April 2014


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