Modern Languages and Linguistics

Modern Languages and Linguistics

Key statistics

In this submission to the Modern Languages and Linguistics unit of assessment of REF 2021, based on work undertaken in the Clinical Audiology, Speech and Language Research Centre in the seven year period 2014-2020:

  • Eight researchers were submitted, of whom five were women.
  • In addition, four post-doctoral research fellows with their own external funding were hosted, each for up to three years, whose work was submitted through collaborations.
  • Around half (9/17) of the outputs selected for submission to REF 21 were in articulatory phonetics.
  • Ten doctoral students working in articulatory phonetics were examined, registered at universities in France, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, and England.
  • The group attracted external income of over £25k per year per submitted researcher (well above £1m in total).

Examples of our work

Our research focused on speech and language therapy, audiology, Sign-English interpreting. Key collaborators included the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Strathclyde.

The bulk of the outputs submitted were in articulatory phonetics. Unique articulatory data collected during children’s clinical treatment and during research projects has been shared in an open science initiative “UltraSuite: a repository of ultrasound and acoustic data from child speech therapy sessions.” Another highlight of this area of research was The Journal of Phonetics awarding their Best Early Career Scholar’s Article of the Year (2017) to one of the papers arising from Dr Patrycja Strycharczuk’s British Academy Fellowship.

Two major teaching-oriented websites were created to aid education in articulatory phonetics. They present free-to-use online audio-visual examples of the sounds of the International Phonetic Alphabet (“Seeing Speech”) and examples of vowel systems and words in a range of dialects of English (“Dynamic Dialects”). Funding came from Carnegie Trust and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We have also published a guide to free-to-use articulatory materials as a peer-reviewed open-access paper aimed at (second or additional) language learning and teaching specialists. This paper has had over 9,500 views and has reached #1 in its journal’s list of most downloaded work. Its Altmetric score of 50 (from tweets & Mendeley) is the journal’s highest, and puts it in the top 5% of all the 260k+ articles of a similar age worldwide, and at the 97% centile of Altmetric’s 12m outputs.

A new two-year MSc/PGDip programme in speech and language therapy was validated early in the census period, to enable postgraduate students with first degrees in linguistics, psychology or other disciplines to acquire a professional qualification in speech and language therapy (and thereby a licence to practice) after two years of study leading to the successful completion of a PGDip. An optional additional research thesis module was also offered, converting the PGDip to an MSc. The first MSc thesis was awarded in 2016, and over 30 research theses have been completed since. This research helps build capacity and experience through supervision, as well as contributing valuable pilot work, case studies and validations to our portfolio of research.  Likewise, an MSc programme in Audiology has helped develop research capacity in this area, with 31 completed theses.

One of the early PGDip graduates then won a QMU PhD bursary, and this work by Dr Dermot Fitzsimons on the un-met communication needs of male young offenders was completed in 2019.

In audiological research, a PhD on auditory brainstems response in healthy adults and adults with alcohol dependency syndrome was completed in 2018 by Dr Christine Johnson.

In Sign-English Interpreting research, a professionally-oriented project led to a government report and to published research into the pragmatics of politeness in BSL interpreting. The “Scotland’s BSL/English Interpreting Profession Landscape Review" was fully funded from a £50K grant from the Equalities Unit within the Scottish Government.

Public engagement is also an important aspect of our work. Prof James M Scobbie was a Beltane public engagement fellow (2015-2016), resulting in a number of events including a week-long stint at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 2017. He also wrote for The Conversation, the Scotsman, and appeared on The One Show (BBC). The research group donated an ultrasound scanner to the ASCUS Arts & Science engagement hub at Summerhall in central Edinburgh. Our public understanding of science events were often branded as “Seeing Speech, Hearing Tongues” and involved other members of CASL, particularly post- doctoral fellows and PhD students, but also Prof Janet Beck and Prof Alan Wrench.

CASL collaborates with two independent spin-out companies, providing additional research and impact infrastructure. FitVoice’s smartphone apps enable secure and high quality voice capture, so are an important tool for data collection for doctoral and other projects. In particular, doctoral analysis of the vocal effects of various mental health conditions has necessitated data capture and management protocols that address the ethical issues relating to security of such sensitive health data. COVID has been an unexpected additional factor highlighting the importance of this type of data collection. Online experimentation is also important, and Dr Maria Dokovova’s PhD undertook online psychologinguistic studies of bilingualism and accent variation.

The second spin-out company is Articulate Instruments Ltd. This strategic partnership benefits the economy as well as the research base. Within the REF-21 census period the company sold worldwide (from an almost zero baseline):

  • 48 ‘EchoB’ and ‘Micro’ systems to 38 institutions.
  • 26 ‘Feedback’ Micro systems aimed at real-time biofeedback in clinical or language- learning contexts to 23 institutions.
  • 115 Research Micro systems suitable for articulatory phonetics research to 102 institutions.
  • AAA analysis software to 148 institutions.

QMU was a co-organiser of the 18th ICPhS in Glasgow in 2015 as part of a Scottish consortium (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Strathclyde, QMU). This is the prestige international conference for phonetics sciences with a prestigious (double-blind) peer reviewed proceedings. 978 delegates attended from 46 countries, and 774 papers were presented. It was the first time it had been held in the UK for 40 years.

Read our full case study on our work on Ultrasound of tongue movements improves speech in children with speech disorders

Read the research impact case study Phonetic voice quality analysis enhances reliability of forensic voice analysis, enables commercial voice characterisation and improves vocal health on the REF 2021 website (available June 2022)