Can language emerge out of nothing? How do we build synthetic voices for those who have lost theirs? Is monolingualism a disease? And why is it still so hard to teach robots to talk?
Pint of Science (15th - 17th May) is an annual event which sees researchers gathering in pubs, bars, cafes, converted warehouses and breweries across the UK to discuss their weird and wonderful findings with the public.
We’re delighted that experts in psychology, linguistics and speech technology will be representing PPLS at three Edinburgh events this year, so pull up a pew and dive in. (Mine’s a tonic water with lemon, no ice.)
Dr Thomas Bak is a multilingual par excellence. From delivering lectures in English, Polish, French or Spanish, to brushing up on Gaelic, Mandarin Chinese or Swahili in his spare time - what’s perhaps most remarkable is that Thomas learnt none of these languages as a child. In recent years, Thomas’ research has increasingly shown the health benefits of learning a language – including for those who learn as adults. From reduced onset in dementia symptoms to better recovery following a stroke, it seems we could all benefit from following Thomas’ example. So much so that in this session, he will expound his theory that monolingualism can, and should, be treated as a disease.
Professors Alice Turk and Simon King will be tag-teaming with two different topics on the common theme: how do you communicate if you can’t speak? Alice’s talk will discuss the example of Nicaraguan Sign Language – a pivotal case study of how communication develops in a group of people brought together without access to spoken language – and what this tells us about how language (spoken and signed) works. Simon will discuss work he’s been part of at Edinburgh investigating how we can help people who lose their natural voice (e.g. through stroke or motor neurone disease) retain the sense of identity from their own individual voice.
Dr Korin Richmond’s talk will focus on the history of human endeavor to get machines to speak. He’ll cover the progress we’ve made, what has made that leap from science fiction to reality possible, and why are some things still so difficult?! What will the future hold for human-robot communication? Relax with a G&T as Korin reveals all. He’ll be joined by Dr Frank Broz (Heriot-Watt University) who’ll be discussing whether, and how, we might be able to build robots that can understand non-verbal communication as well as verbal.
Thomas Bak is group leader on Multilingualism and Health as part of Multilingualism: Empowering individuals, Transforming societies, and was recently awarded funding to work with social enterprise Lingoflamingo delivering language lessons to dementia patients.
Alice Turk teaches phonetic linguistics and one of her key research interests involves speech production.
Simon King is the Director for the Centre of Speech and Technology research, a world leading research centre of speech synthesis and automatic speech recognition.
Korin Richmond is a member of the Centre for Speech and Technology research, where his work focuses on speech synthesis and articulatory modelling.