Linguistics and English Language

Bilingualism and Developmental Linguistics research group

Speaker: Simon Wehrle (University of Cologne)

Title: Speech melody in autism – overview, assessment and validation

Abstract: Since the very beginnings of research into autism (spectrum disorder; ASD), there have been contradicting descriptions of the speech melody (or intonation style) in ASD as either characteristically melodic or characteristically monotonous. I will first present a brief overview of previous work, highlighting some issues regarding the terminology and methodologies used and concluding that earlier accounts, particularly of monotonous speech in ASD, may have been misleading (Wehrle in print; Wehrle et al. 2020; Grice et al. 2023).

I will then report on experimental results for which I employed a newly developed method for quantifying intonation style along two dimensions (Wiggliness and Spaciousness) to analyse semi-structured conversations between 28 speakers with and without a diagnosis of ASD, recorded in disposition-matched dyads (ASD-ASD; CTR-CTR) (Wehrle et al. 2022; Wehrle 2022). Most (but not all) ASD speakers in the corpus under investigation produced a more melodic intonation style than non-autistic CTR speakers, while, crucially, none produced a more monotonous intonation style. I will emphasise the importance of accounting for inter-individual variability in groups of autistic speakers and highlight a clear tendency in recent studies for reporting more melodic speech in ASD.

After pointing to some related work on prosodic aspects of dialogue management in ASD (e.g. Wehrle, Vogeley & Grice 2023), I will summarise a recent study analysing prosodic aspects of oral reading proficiency in school children. The results of this study validate the methods used for characterising intonation style in ASD by providing robust evidence for a correlation of the acoustic metrics employed with subjective listener ratings (Wehrle & Sappok 2023). I will close by pointing to ongoing work on conversation and intonation in ASD as well as further analyses using Wiggliness and Spaciousness to characterise speech melody in unrelated data sets.


  • Grice, Martine, Simon Wehrle, Martina Krüger, Malin Spaniol, Francesco Cangemi & Kai Vogeley. 2023. Linguistic Prosody in Autism Spectrum Disorder—An Overview. Language and Linguistics Compass.
  • Wehrle, Simon. 2022. A brief tutorial for using Wiggliness and Spaciousness to measure intonation styles. OSF. (14 December, 2022).
  • Wehrle, Simon. in print. Conversation and intonation in autism: A multi-dimensional analysis (Studies in Laboratory Phonology 14). Berlin, Germany: Language Science Press.
  • Wehrle, Simon, Francesco Cangemi, Harriet Hanekamp, Kai Vogeley & Martine Grice. 2020. Assessing the Intonation Style of Speakers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020, 809–813.
  • Wehrle, Simon, Francesco Cangemi, Kai Vogeley & Martine Grice. 2022. New evidence for melodic speech in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Proc. Speech Prosody 2022 37–41.
  • Wehrle, Simon & Christopher Sappok. 2023. Evaluating prosodic aspects of oral reading proficiency in schoolchildren: effects of gender, genre and grade. In Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Prague, Czech Repulic.
  • Wehrle, Simon, Kai Vogeley & Martine Grice. 2023. Backchannels in conversations between autistic adults are less frequent and less diverse prosodically and lexically. Language and Cognition. Cambridge University Press 1–26. 


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Nov 20 2023 -

Bilingualism and Developmental Linguistics research group

2023-11-20: Speech melody in autism – overview, assessment and validation

Room G26, Psychology Building, 7 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ