Projects

Candidates are highly recommended to write a proposal that fits into one of the following research lines and are recommended to contact the relevant supervisors when developing proposals. Other projects may be developed but the potential supervisors at the partner universities MUST be contacted prior to application.

Pronoun processing in (primary progressive) aphasia

Supervisors:

Dr. Seçkin Arslan (Macquarie University, seckin1984@gmail.com)
Prof. Lyndsey Nickels (Macquarie University)
Prof. Roelien Bastiaanse (University of Groningen)

Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that adversely impacts language skills, rendering daily communication impossible. This project seeks to unveil how people with aphasia struggle to process pronouns (e.g. she/him) by examining people with aphasia’s moment-by-moment sentence-comprehension and its associated brain activity in both post-stroke aphasia and primary progressive aphasia (PPA, a form of aphasia resulting from brain degeneration). This will advance the understanding of pronoun processing in aphasia, evaluate theories of language dissolution in aphasia, and thereby enable clinicians to develop more effective protocols for its treatment. Potential topics include (but not limited to) investigating the deterioration of pronoun comprehension and production in sentences in people with post-stroke aphasia and primary progressive aphasia using eye-tracking and/or electrophysiological measures (i.e. ERPs).


USING EYE-TRACKING TO UNDERSTAND AND ASSESS READING COMPREHENSION

Supervisory team leads:
Prof. Genevieve McArthur (Macquarie University, genevieve.mcarthur@mq.edu.au)
Prof. Erik Reichle (Macquarie University; erik.reichle@mq.edu.au)

Supervisory team:
Dr. Lili Yu (Macquarie University)
Dr. Titus von der Malsburg (University of Potsdam)

This project aims to investigate whether and how eye-movement measures can be linked to different aspects of reading comprehension, such as decoding and language comprehension. Previous research suggests that there may be a link between certain eye-movement measures and reading comprehension skills, such that decoding skills might be related to some measures. For example, fixation times on a word may be related to that word’s cloze probability, while other measures will be related to higher level processes, such that whole text reading time may be related to text difficulty. This project also aims to investigate whether group and individual differences can be studied with this method, and whether eye-movements may be used as a diagnostic tool for reading difficulties.


THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN READING AND LANGUAGE IMPAIRMENTS AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH

Supervisory team leader:
Prof. Genevieve McArthur (Macquarie University, genevieve.mcarthur@mq.edu.au)

Supervisory team:
Deanna Francis (Macquarie University)
[Supervisor from partner institution to be determined]

There is growing concern amongst educators, clinicians, and scientists that children with reading and/or language impairments are at increased risk for emotional problems – but we do not understand why. In this project, we are working towards establishing the first evidence-based theories, interventions, and test batteries for emotional problems in children with reading and/or language problems. Thus far, we have discovered that poor reading is more reliably associated with anxiety and poor self-concept than depression, that poor readers with more severe and widespread reading difficulties are more likely to have anxiety than poor readers with specific reading difficulties, that poor readers with concomitant deficits in spoken language and attention are more likely to have poor self-concept that poor readers without these comorbidities, and that targeted reading intervention interleaved with targeted anxiety intervention trigger large and significant improvements in reading. Such findings help boost the identification and treatment of poor readers with emotional problems, reducing their risk of school failure, subsequent unemployment, and poor physical and emotional health.

BUILDING ARTICULATORY ROUTINES IN MORE THAN ONE LANGUAGE

Supervisory team:
Dr. Ghada Khattab (Newcastle University, ghada.khattab@ncl.ac.uk)
Dr. Aude Noiray (University of Potsdam, anoiray@uni-potsdam.de)
Prof. Felicity Cox (Macquarie University, felicity.cox@mq.edu.au) Dr. Michael Proctor (Macquarie University, michael.proctor@mq.edu.au)

This project looks at the acquisition of laterals in German-Arabic, AusEng-Arabic and UKEng-Arabic bilingual children using a combination of impressionistic, articulatory (using Ultrasound) and acoustic techniques. Laterals involve complex lingual articulations and are typically acquired late and are amongst the sounds that require clinical intervention. Laterals vary in the involvement of the tongue dorsum alongside the tongue tip as well as in the co-ordination with these two gestures, creating a continuum of gestural timing which manifests itself in what is impressionistically referred to as ‘clear’ (palatalised) or ‘dark’ (velarized/pharyngealised) /l/s. The realisation is of course gradient rather than binary and is governed both by linguistic (prosodic and morphological) conditioning as well as dialectal and cross-linguistic systematic variation.
Given that the gestural organisation of a syllable with a lateral requires gestural co-ordination with surrounding sounds, children must learn these co-articulatory patterns from an early age, along with their linguistic conditioning. Little is known about how these co-articulatory routines develop if a child is learning two languages with different phonetic realisations of laterals as well as different morpho-phonological rules for the employment of tongue tip and tongue body gestures and their timing. Arabic and German typically have clear laterals in all word positions and contexts, Newcastle English generally has clear laterals in onset positions and dark laterals in codas (but with morphological conditioning as well), while Australian English has dark laterals throughout.
This project will investigate how bilingual or multilingual children come to acquire language-specific gestural timing and articulatory routines for laterals in each of their languages, and how their acquisition patterns may compare with monolingual children acquiring these languages. The findings will improve our understanding of the acquisition of gestural co-ordination across languages and multilingual contexts and will feed into our understanding of atypical acquisition of laterals.

UNDERSTANDING SPEECH IN BACKGROUND NOISE

Supervisory team:
Prof. David McAlpine (Macquarie University, david.mcalpine@mq.edu.au)
Dr. Lindsey van Yper (Macquarie University)
Prof. Deniz Baskent (University of Groningen)

Understanding speech in background noise is critical to communication in many everyday listening environments. Many individuals who experience difficulties listening in noise have otherwise normal hearing, leaving the cause of their listening problems undiagnosed. Using neurophysiological measures of brain function—electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG)—this project will explore listeners’ abilities to hear out speech in background noise, making use of binaural (two-eared) cues. Specifically, it will assess the extent to which listeners can separate ‘foreground’ sounds from ‘background’ sounds, and determine whether this correlates with their ability to understand speech in noise. A problem separating foreground from background sounds per se suggests potential contributions to speech-in-noise problems by early brainstem processing, which are reflected in the neural signatures for spatial listening in auditory cortex.



Motor learning in speech and other domains in patients with Parkinson’s disease

Supervisory team:

Prof. Martijn Wieling (University of Groningen, m.b.wieling@rug.nl)

Dr. Roel Jonkers (University of Groningen)

Dr. Michael Proctor (Macquarie University)

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, affecting predominantly the elderly. Symptoms include several motor symptoms, such as resting tremor, slowness of movement, postural instability and rigidity, but also speech problems, such as imprecise articulations, slurring, reduced volume, and a monotonous tone of voice. It is unclear, however, whether these problems stem predominantly from problems with feedforward control (i.e., planning and learning movements) or with feedback control (i.e., monitoring the movements and integrating sensory feedback). This project will thus investigate PD patients’ ability for motor learning and feedback integration in speech and other domains (e.g., vision). This will deepen the understanding of how PD affects the ability to adapt and learn as well as advance our knowledge on how speech is connected to other motor domains. Students can choose to study speech using acoustic as well as several articulatory methods (electromagnetic articulography, ultrasound tongue imaging), and will have the new mobile laboratory of the Faculty of Arts at their disposal for data collection.


Speech perception in „adverse conditions“: effect of language/hearing impairment, listener age and/or background noise

Supervisory team:

Prof. Dr. Outi Tuomainen (University of Potsdam, tuomainen@uni-potsdam.de)

[Supervisors from partner institution to be determined.]

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) and Developmental Dyslexia (DD) are common (and overlapping) language disorders that can have a serious impact on a child’s social, psychological and educational outcomes. It has been suggested that phonological deficits in DD (and thus potentially also in DLD) stem from increased variability (i.e., “noise”) in the neural response to auditory stimuli. This project investigates, using EEG and behavioural measures, stimulus-specific adaptation (SSA) as a potential noise-reduction mechanism in children with/without language disorders.

Another potential PhD project involves measuring listening effort in different types of background noises and in different clinical and non-clinical populations (such as children with/without hearing loss; younger/older adults). 

Morphological processing in patients with acquired dyslexia

Supervisory team leader:

Elisabeth (Lisi) Beyersmann (Macquarie University, lisi.beyersmann@mq.edu.au)

Supervisory Team

External supervisor: Simon Fischer-Baum (Rice University, Houston, US)

Supervisor from IDEALAB partner institution:

Janet Webster (Newcastle University, UK)

Julie Morris (Newcastle University, UK)

80% of words in the English language are morphologically complex; that is, they comprise multiple morphemes such as a stem (pack) plus an affix (un + pack or pack + ing) or two concatenated stems (back + pack). Morphological structure impacts how we process written words, with morphemes having different implications for meaning. Questions remain about where in the reading system morphological structure has its impact and how morphological parts are recognized in letter strings. This project investigates the influence of morphological structure in reading in a case series of patients with acquired dyslexia. The goal is to dissociate morphological processing from other reading mechanisms (e.g. lexical processing, phonological decoding) by investigating whether or not morphological processing can “survive” in reading impaired patients. Single word reading will be contrasted with reading within the context of phrases and sentences.