Research
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Mirjam Ernestus

Centre for Language Studies
Radboud University Nijmegen
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Email: m.ernestus@let.ru.nl
Telephone: +31-243612970
Fax: +31-243521213

Language in Mind
Centre for Language Studies
Faculty of Arts
Radboud University Nijmegen

Main goal

As a psycholinguist, I am interested in all aspects of language processing. However, my main focus is on how speakers produce and how listeners understand speech in informal conversations.

Reduced pronunciation variants

Informal (casual) conversations differ from read speech in many respects. An important difference is that in casual speech, words are often produced with fewer segments and even with fewer syllables. I have included a few examples of reduced pronunciation variants of American English and Dutch words (for a good introduction to the phenomenon of reduced pronunciation variants, with many examples, please see Ernestus & Warner, 2011).

  • American English
    • We were supposed to see it yesterday, but I felt really bad [wav]
      which contains reduced
    • It was probably last Tuesday [wav]
      which contains reduced
  • Dutch
    • Eén van de voordelen is natuurlijk dat je... [wav]
      which contains reduced
    • Ik denk dat het daarom wel mocht [wav] which contains reduced

Initial research

In my PhD dissertation (2000), I provided a qualitative description of reduced pronunciation variants in Dutch. As a post-doctoral researcher, I started investigating the comprehension of these variants together with Dr Harald Baayen and with PhD students Rachel Kemps, Victor Kuperman, and Mark Pluymaekers. This initial work is now being followed up in three major research projects under my supervision.

Project 1: Reduced variants in five European languages

In the research project "Acoustic reduction in European languages" (2007 - 2012), my research group (including PhD students Francisco Torreira, Marco van de Ven, Barbara Schuppler, Lucie Kočková-Amortová, Iris Hanique and research assistant Alice Kolman) Photo investigated how words are reduced in Dutch, English, French, Spanish and Czech, and how these variants are understood by native listeners. We studied the occurrence and characteristics of reduced pronunciation variants on the basis of a number of corpora of casual speech, most of which we created ourselves (My corpus webpage). We studied the production and comprehension of these variants by means of psycholinguistic experiments. For a summary of results please see an article that appeared in Lingua, mp3 and video.

This project officially ended in 2012, but I will continue working on these topics with PhD students Martijn Bentum, Mybeth Lahey and Malte Viebahn and with research assistant Alice Kolman. This project was mainly funded by a European Young Investigator Award from the European Science Foundation, with additional funding from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and the Marie Curie Training Network Sound to Sense.

Project 2: Understanding reduced variants in a foreign language

Photo In the project "The challenge of reduced pronunciation variants in conversational speech for foreign language listeners" (2012 - 2016), we are investigating how advanced late learners of a foreign language understand reduced pronunciation variants and sentences containing these variants. We are conducting comprehension and perception experiments (including eye-tracking and ERP experiments) using stimuli spliced from spontaneous conversations. We will also conduct several experiments investigating how advanced learners' comprehension skills can be improved. I am working on this project together with PhD students Sophie Brand and Ellen Aalders and with post-doc researcher Kimberley Mulder. Rian Zondervan is our project manager. This project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC).

Project 3: Learning reduced variants in a foreign language

Photo My third major project on reduced pronunciation variants, "Learning pronunciation variants for words in a foreign language” (2012 - 2017), is more theoretical in nature than the ERC project. We are investigating how adults who start to learn a foreign language build representations for reduced pronunciation variants in their mental lexicons, and how these lexical representations evolve over time. We are conducting comprehension and perception experiments, including experiments that combine ERP with fMRI measurements. I am currently working together with Dr Louis ten Bosch and Mark Noordenbos and with PhD students Sascha Coridun, Lisa Morano and Annika Nijveld. This project is funded by a vici grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Related smaller projects

Photo I am also working on a few smaller projects that are related to my work on reduced variants. I am working together with Dr Margot van Mulken and PhD students Kim Koppen and Huib Kouwenhoven on the characteristics of formal versus informal speech. Together with Dr Esther Janse and her PhD students, I am investigating how young adults and elderly people understand characteristics of spontaneous speech other than reduction. In the past, I worked on the role of prosodic structure in speech production and comprehension (with PhD student Claudia Kuzla, who finished in 2009), and on how the segments in a listener's native language affects speech perception in a foreign language (with PhD student Anita Wagner, finished in 2008).

The processing of morphologically complex words

Finally, I am also studying the characteristics of the mental lexicon on the basis of how we process morphologically complex words. Most of this research has involved Dr Harald Baayen and Dr Rob Schreuder. For a summary please see Ernestus (2006) and (mp3). Currently I am working on this topic together with PhD student Laura de Vaan.

Please, see here for more information about my research group.