Department of Phonetics
Acting chair: Katalin Mády, senior research fellow
The Department of Phonetics is concerned with speech and investigates the processes which underlie human communication from speech production to utterance comprehension. Speech is an extremely complex phenomenon, and its study requires theoretical and experimental research, often together with fields bordering phonetics.
The research areas of the department fall partly in the domain of basic research and partly in that of applied research. One main topic is the acoustic phonetic and perceptual analysis of spontaneous speech. We seek answers to the questions of how the pronunciation of speech sounds is modified in continuous speech, what effect neighboring sounds have on each other, what influences the speed of speech, or the features of melody or stress. The analyses, which begin theoretically and continue through the processing of the experimental data, target the dependencies between articulation, acoustic structure, and perception. Another main research topic is the investigation of the dependencies between speech production and comprehension in children. A new research area of the department is the clinical linguistics, phonetics.
Phonetic research has undergone major development in the last three decades, primarily due to advances in its technical and technological prerequisites. The aim of speech research, which used to be mostly descriptive, has now become to discover all processes involved in speech, based on the achievements of the pioneers of experimental phonetics. In laying the foundations of modern phonetics, a detailed presentation of the mechanisms involved in the production of speech sounds, with the help of figures showing the movement of the lips or the way the tongue touches the palate, or with X-ray pictures taken at the time of the production of speech sounds, played an important role. The analysis of the acoustic effects of pronunciation led to more and more detailed accounts of the physical properties of speech. Research concentrating on the recognition of speech sounds also got major impetus in this period. Present research primarily aims to analyse spontaneous speech from the point of view of pronunciation, acoustic properties, and speech perception.
The following research topics are investigated at the Department of Phonetics: the study of the role of the vocal cords in the production of speech; the analysis of speech sounds and of the effect they have on each other; the description of the variability of vowels, of consonant complexes, of the inner temporal structure, and of the properties of voicing assimilation; the development of a model predicting the length of Hungarian speech sounds; and the description of the dependencies between speech melody and sentence type.
The results of applied research are the following. Systems transforming written text into speech have been developed. It has become possible to determine the identity of a person to a high degree of efficiency by means of the phonetic analysis of his/her speech. The development of speech perception diagnostics capable of analyzing the speech perception and comprehension abilities of children between 3 and 13 counts as a significant achievement. It is used various experts in the country to determine a child’s readiness for school or for children struggling with a speech defect or learning difficulties. The interdisciplinary, multimedia software Introduction to speech technology for Hungarian, which is considered a pioneering work in the field in both its form and content, has been completed and is used more and more widely in higher education.
The results of basic research about speech are published yearly in Hungarian in the series of collections of papers edited at the department with the title Beszédkutatás [Speech Research]. The international interest in and recognition of our results is reflected in the fact that the International Journal of Speech Technology published a thematic issue about phonetic research in Hungary in 2000, and that we were able to present the newest results of the last two years in the thematic issues of Acta Linguistica Hungarica in 2002 and 2010. The development of BEA - a phonetically-based multi-purpose database of Hungarian spontaneous speech - started in 2007.
The permanent exhibition The history of experimental phonetics in Hungary, which was compiled by the department and is also open to the public, provides an opportunity to get acquainted with and at the same time preserves the history of speech research.
Since 1992, the Department of Phonetics has organized the national conference Speech Research every two years.
Last modified: 09.07.2019