Phon call

Nov 26th, 2014

Janet Harron

Phon call

It might not cause quite as big a splash as a new version of the iPhone but a second iteration of the Phon software system is a major deal for researchers studying phonetics and phonology, especially in the areas of language acquisition and speech disorders.

A project managed over the last decade by Memorial University linguist Dr. Yvan Rose, with long-term collaborator programmer Gregory Hedlund, Phon is a publicly funded, open-source software program for the analysis of speech sounds and language development.

According to Dr. Rose, Phon2 vastly improves on the functions offered in previous versions of the application and now brings different research methods together within a unified framework, therefore opening up new areas of investigation. It currently provides support for formant (resonance), pitch and intensity analyses. Phon2 is designed to work with an existing PhonBank database to integrate speech analyses based on phonetic transcriptions with acoustic measurements of speech.

“What used to require weeks or months of data preparation and analysis can now be done much faster and much more consistently,” said Dr. Rose. “This fills an important methodological gap.”

Dr. Rose says that Phon2 will assist in determining whether phenomena observed in child language development, such as typical child pronunciation of words like “rain” as “wain,” are driven by language-specific factors or by factors that affect learners of all languages the same.

These new methods will thus serve to address important research questions in more efficient ways, yielding faster results at a significantly lower cost. This is particularly true in the context of the PhonBank database, which already supplies research data to hundreds of students and scholars alike. As well, the software will eventually allow for more efficient methods for the diagnosis and treatment of speech disorders. More people can thus be helped without any added costs to our public health care system. 

In addition to Dr. Rose and Mr. Hedlung and their collaborators, key participants have been Jason Gedge, Philip O'Brien, and Keith Maddocks − all Memorial computer science alumni and Phon programmers − and computer science professors Dr. Rod Byrne and Dr. Todd Wareham.