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Naomi Feldman

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Associate Professor, Linguistics

Associate Professor, Institute for Advanced Computer Studies

(301) 405-5800

1413 A Marie Mount Hall
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Research Expertise

Computational Linguistics
Computational Modeling
Language Acquisition
Phonology

Publications

A unified account of categorical effects in phonetic perception

A statistical model that explains both the strong categorical effects in perception of consonants, and the very weak effects in perception of vowels.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Naomi Feldman
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Yakov Kronrod, Emily Coppess
Dates:
Categorical effects are found across speech sound categories, with the degree of these effects ranging from extremely strong categorical perception in consonants to nearly continuous perception in vowels. We show that both strong and weak categorical effects can be captured by a unified model. We treat speech perception as a statistical inference problem, assuming that listeners use their knowledge of categories as well as the acoustics of the signal to infer the intended productions of the speaker. Simulations show that the model provides close fits to empirical data, unifying past findings of categorical effects in consonants and vowels and capturing differences in the degree of categorical effects through a single parameter.

Infant-directed speech is consistent with teaching

Why do we speak differently to infants than to adults? To help answer this question, Naomi Feldman offers a formal theory of phonetic teaching and learning.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Naomi Feldman
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Baxter Eaves Jr., Thomas Griffiths, Patrick Shafto
Dates:
Infant-directed speech (IDS) has distinctive properties that differ from adult-directed speech (ADS). Why it has these properties -- and whether they are intended to facilitate language learning -- is matter of contention. We argue that much of this disagreement stems from lack of a formal, guiding theory of how phonetic categories should best be taught to infant-like learners. In the absence of such a theory, researchers have relied on intuitions about learning to guide the argument. We use a formal theory of teaching, validated through experiments in other domains, as the basis for a detailed analysis of whether IDS is well-designed for teaching phonetic categories. Using the theory, we generate ideal data for teaching phonetic categories in English. We qualitatively compare the simulated teaching data with human IDS, finding that the teaching data exhibit many features of IDS, including some that have been taken as evidence IDS is not for teaching. The simulated data reveal potential pitfalls for experimentalists exploring the role of IDS in language learning. Focusing on different formants and phoneme sets leads to different conclusions, and the benefit of the teaching data to learners is not apparent until a sufficient number of examples have been provided. Finally, we investigate transfer of IDS to learning ADS. The teaching data improves classification of ADS data, but only for the learner they were generated to teach; not universally across all classes of learner. This research offers a theoretically-grounded framework that empowers experimentalists to systematically evaluate whether IDS is for teaching.

Why discourse affects speakers' choice of referring expressions

A probalistic model of the choice between using a pronoun or some other referring expression.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Naomi Feldman
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Naho Orita, Eliana Vornov, Hal Daumé III
Dates:
We propose a language production model that uses dynamic discourse information to account for speakers' choices of referring expressions. Our model extends previous rational speech act models (Frank and Goodman, 2012) to more naturally distributed linguistic data, instead of assuming a controlled experimental setting. Simulations show a close match between speakers' utterances and model predictions, indicating that speakers' behavior can be modeled in a principled way by considering the probabilities of referents in the discourse and the information conveyed by each word.

A role for the developing lexicon in phonetic category acquisition

Bayesian models and artificial language learning tasks show that infant acquiosition of phonetic categories can be helpfully constrained by feedback from word segmentation.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Naomi Feldman
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Thomas Griffiths, Sharon Goldwater, James Morgan
Dates:
Infants segment words from fluent speech during the same period when they are learning phonetic categories, yet accounts of phonetic category acquisition typically ignore information about the words in which sounds appear. We use a Bayesian model to illustrate how feedback from segmented words might constrain phonetic category learning by providing information about which sounds occur together in words. Simulations demonstrate that word-level information can successfully disambiguate overlapping English vowel categories. Learning patterns in the model are shown to parallel human behavior from artificial language learning tasks. These findings point to a central role for the developing lexicon in phonetic category acquisition and provide a framework for incorporating top-down constraints into models of category learning.

Word-level information influences phonetic learning in adults and infants

How do infants learn the phonetic categories of their language? The words they occur can provide a useful cue, shows Naomi Feldman.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Naomi Feldman
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Emily Myers, Katherine White, Thomas Griffiths, James Morgan
Dates:
Infants begin to segment words from fluent speech during the same time period that they learn phonetic categories. Segmented words can provide a potentially useful cue for phonetic learning, yet accounts of phonetic category acquisition typically ignore the contexts in which sounds appear. We present two experiments to show that, contrary to the assumption that phonetic learning occurs in isolation, learners are sensitive to the words in which sounds appear and can use this information to constrain their interpretation of phonetic variability. Experiment 1 shows that adults use word-level information in a phonetic category learning task, assigning acoustically similar vowels to different categories more often when those sounds consistently appear in different words. Experiment 2 demonstrates that eight-month-old infants similarly pay attention to word-level information and that this information affects how they treat phonetic contrasts. These findings suggest that phonetic category learning is a rich, interactive process that takes advantage of many different types of cues that are present in the input.

The influence of categories on perception: Explaining the perceptual magnet effect as optimal statistical inference

Naomi Feldman develops a Bayesian account of the perceptual magnet effect.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Naomi Feldman
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Thomas Griffiths, James Morgan
Dates:

A variety of studies have demonstrated that organizing stimuli into categories can affect the way the stimuli are perceived. We explore the influence of categories on perception through one such phenomenon, the perceptual magnet effect, in which discriminability between vowels is reduced near prototypical vowel sounds. We present a Bayesian model to explain why this reduced discriminability might occur: It arises as a consequence of optimally solving the statistical problem of perception in noise. In the optimal solution to this problem, listeners’ perception is biased toward phonetic category means because they use knowledge of these categories to guide their inferences about speakers’ target productions. Simulations show that model predictions closely correspond to previously published human data, and novel experimental results provide evidence for the predicted link between perceptual warping and noise. The model unifies several previous accounts of the perceptual magnet effect and provides a framework for exploring categorical effects in other domains.