Director of CASL Research Centre


Division: Speech and Hearing Sciences

Tel: 0131 474 0000

Professor James M Scobbie (MA Hons, MSc, PhD) is the Director of the CASL Research Centre in the Speech and Hearing Sciences Division. He is also a full member of Clinical Audiology, Speech and Language Research Centre (CASL).

I obtained my PhD in theoretical phonology at the University of Edinburgh in 1991, having previously studied Cognitive Science, Linguistics, and Artificial Intelligence. I undertook postdoctoral study at Stanford University, returning to Edinburgh and taking up a research post here at QMC (as it then was) under Professor Bill Hardcastle and Fiona Gibbon (who more recently has been professor at UCC, Ireland). This project introduced me to developmental clinical speech disorders, child language development, acoustic analysis, longitudinal methods and phonetic experimentation. It was quite a departure, and a foundation for what followed..

Subsequently I worked on a variety of projects as research fellow and PI, bringing together these varied interests and experiences in my own research to address fine-grained systematic differences in accents, articulatory phonetics, acquisition, and connected speech. I also contributed to two of QMU’s strategic areas of research strength, namely the development and refinement of instrumental techniques for the study of speech, and their use for the assessment and remediation of speech disorders.

I have also participated in a range of other areas of research importance for CASL, including child speech acquisition, psycholinguistics, bidialectalism and bilingualism, laboratory phonology, social variation.

I was appointed to a QMU-funded post as senior research fellow in 2004, and professor in 2007. I have been Director of a research centre based around Speech and Hearing Science since 2009.

I have pursued research interests through a range of projects, and with a number of collaborators. Long-standing relationships with Prof Alice Turk at Edinburgh and Prof Jane Stuart-Smith have led to ongoing joint supervisions of doctoral students as well as collaborative projects and opportunities for flexible post-doctoral funding. We also bid (also with Strathclyde) to host the International Congress of Phonetics Sciences in 2015. It is the world’s main phonetics conference, and it attracted nearly a thousand delegates to the SECC in Glasgow. In addition, long-standing collaborations with Prof Alan Wrench (Articulate Instruments Ltd) and Dr Joanne Cleland (Strathclyde) are responsible for helping develop ultrasound as a research and clinical tool. They have created the clinical protocols and instrumental tools used in QMU’s Articulatory Research Clinic.

My own work has addressed such apparently esoteric topics such as the English consonants R and L, and the vowel OO, but this is because these sounds (1) require complex coordination of different parts of the tongue and the lips and varied tongue shapes, (2) show regional and social accent variation, (3) show covert articulatory social variation in Scottish English, and (4) are ideal as topics for research using ultrasound tongue imaging.

For the university, I am a board member of the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences, sit on Senate, and participate on other institutional committees and working groups. In recent years I have led our research group in our research evaluations (RAE07, REF14), and am proud that CASL Research Centre was the core of so successful a submission to the Research Excellence Framework (2014) for the Modern Languages and Linguistics panel. Indeed, in terms of our overall profile in research and impact, 92% of our return was rated as internationally excellent or world leading (3* & 4*), this measure placing us 2nd in the UK and first in Scotland.

Professional Social Media:

Research/Knowledge Exchange Centre Membership:

I am interested in the sounds of speech, in any of the world’s languages, and how our vocal tracts move to produce them. I use accent variation within a single language (English) as a tool to reveal how sounds and articulations vary in fine-grained yet systematic ways. I am also particularly interested how speech is acquired and mastered by children.

Speech is an astonishingly complex phenomenon and takes years to learn; while articulation is very difficult to study scientifically. Tackling these two challenges, my research aims to help develop instrumental techniques which can be used to understand speech and its disorders, and to help resolve persistent childhood difficulties when used by Speech and Language Therapists as a real-time biofeedback tool.

Using experiments and corpora, I look at how we combine sounds into words, how we then manage the sequence of words in speech, and how manage the transitions between speaking and silence.

Active Research Interests:

  • Phonetics, articulation,
  • phonology,
  • speech science,
  • speech acquisition,
  • speech disorder,
  • speech variation,
  • talking heads,
  • bidialectalism,
  • conversation.

Research Methods:

  • Ultrasound Tongue Imaging (UTI),
  • Electropalatography (EPG),
  • Electromagnetic Articulography (EMA),
  • Acoustic analysis,
  • clinical case study series.

Research Grants & Contracts Funding:

  • Co-I. for ESRC project “Changes in shape, space and time: the impact of position on the spatiotemporal and configurational articulatory properties of liquid consonants”. (QMU & Glasgow, £194,727, fEC £243,408, ES/N008189/1). Sep 2016 – Aug 2018. P.I. Dr Eleanor Lawson, Co-I Prof Jane Stuart-Smith (Glasgow).
  • P.I. of “Ultrasound Visual Biofeedback Treatment for Speech Sound Disorders in Children”. CSO (Chief Scientist Office) (£138,376, ETM/402). May 2015 – Oct 2016. Co-I. Dr Joanne Cleland (Strathclyde).
  • Mentor / co-I. for “The transfer of connected speech behaviours: external sandhi and glottalization in English-accented German”. EU Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship (P.I. & fellow Dr Maria Paola Bissiri). (£221,606, PIEF-GA-2013-623394). Oct 2014 – Sep 2016.
  • Co-I. for “Dynamic Dialects” AHRC: Integrating articulatory video to reveal the complexity of speech. (£232,382, AH/L010380/1) Jan 2014-June 2015. P.I. Prof Jane Stuart-Smith (Glasgow), with co-award holders at UCL and Napier Universities.
  • Mentor / co-I. for “Contrasts and categories in articulation and perception”. British Academy postdoctoral fellowship (P.I. & fellow Dr Patrycja Strycharczuk). (£209,502, fEC £260,377.) 16/09/2013- 15/09/16.
  • Consultant on “The effect of speaker accent on sentence comprehension in children with language delay”. Irish Health Research Board award (P.I. Prof Fiona Gibbon, award holder Prof Paul Fletcher) Project HRA_POR/2012/68 (€291,420). Oct 2012 – Sep 2015. University College Cork.
  • P.I. of “Seeing the links in the speaker-hearer chain: an investigation of the transmission of articulatory variation using ultrasound tongue imaging”. ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) research grant ES/I036400/1 (£230,764 fEC, £184,611). Aug 2011 – Jan 2014. Award holders Eleanor Lawson (QMU) and Jane Stuart-Smith (Glasgow).
  • Award holder of “An online Ultrasound Tongue Imaging resource for Phonetics, Linguistics, and Speech Therapy teaching at Scottish Universities”. Carnegie Trust. (£38,682), July 2011 – Sep 2013. Main partner University of Glasgow, with co-award holders at Strathclyde, Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities.
  • Mentor / co-I. for British Academy Visiting Scholar Fellowship “A biomechanical tongue model for speech production based on MRI live speaker data” (£6132). 15/06/11-15/08/11. Fellow and co-applicant: Adam Baker (Afghanistan).
  • P.I. of “Ultrax: Real-time tongue tracking for speech therapy using ultrasound”. EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) Healthcare Partnership research grant EP/I027696/1. (~£350,000 fEC), Feb 2011-Aug 2014. Joint partner University of Edinburgh (~£350,000 fEC to UoE), industrial partner Articulate Instruments Ltd. (Total awarded £586,154)
  • Co-I. for ESRC project “Open-Mouthed or Stiff Upper Lip? Exploring Language-Specific Articulatory Settings in English-German Bilinguals" (QMU, fEC £99,580, RES-000-22-3032). Sep 2008 – April 2010. P.I. Dr Sonja Schaeffler, Co-I. Dr Ineke Mennen.
  • Co-P.I. “An Edinburgh Speech Production Facility”. EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) EP/E016359/1 (£102,986 fEC to QMU). Mar 2007-Feb 2010. Main partner University of Edinburgh, EP/E01609X/1. (fEC to UoEapprox £600,000) Co-P.I. Dr Turk (Edinburgh)

Phonetics, Phonology, Ultrasound-based articulatory explorations, Innovative clinical technologies in speech and language therapy, Research at honours, masters and doctoral levels.

Public Engagement and Science Outreach