Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Cutler, E. Anne
Location University of Western Sydney
Primary Field Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
 Election Citation
Cutler is one of the most pre-eminent scientists researching speech perception. Her experimental work traces the acquisition, from early infancy, of language-specific speech parsing capacities, including word segmentation and recognition abilities, and the interpretation of intonation and connected speech.
 Research Interests
My research concerns the perception of spoken language. Babies are born with the mental equipment to acquire language, but with no specific knowledge of what the environmental language will be like, and languages differ in all aspects of linguistic structure: the repertoire of speech sounds they use, how they construct words, the rules of their grammar, and so on. Because babies can acquire, without specific instruction, any language they hear, it might seem that the mental processes involved in speaking and listening to language should be universal. But, beginning with the discovery that adult listeners use language-specific strategies in segmenting continuous speech into its component words, my research has established that adult language processes differ substantially across languages. The segmentation differences, we discovered, have their source in early infant listening experience, and the construction of an initial vocabulary. Building on this foundation, our research program has gradually uncovered how the universal substrate of language processing abilities with which we are born is gradually shaped by the structure of the mother tongue, leading to adult listening performance which is optimized for the native language (but with the downside that adult listening can then be far from optimal with foreign languages).

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