QStep dissertation award for Zihang Peng

Posted on July 22, 2020 by

Congratulations to Zihang Peng on winning the QStep Award for the best quantitative dissertation in Linguistics and English Language 2019/20!

Zihang is graduating with a BA (Hons) in Linguistics, and he plans to continue with a postgraduate study in the area of linguistics, computation and cognitive science. His dissertation, supervised by Ariadne Loutrari, is titled “The effects of noise, pitch and speech on the phonological short-term memory performance”. Below is Zihang’s own summary of the research:

People usually process language under different environments (e.g. different sound conditions). Will these different sounds condition influence the effectiveness of language processing? The phonological loop, being one of the components in working memory system identified by cognitive psychologists, is responsible for temporally holding information (e.g. sentences). So what kinds of sound can potentially affect the processing of language in the phonological loop? My study investigates the effects of noise, pitch and speech on the phonological short-term memory performance. The theoretical framework used in this study is Baddeley & Hitch (1974) working memory. This dissertation first discusses how different memory components process different sounds (noise, pitch and speech) using theoretical frameworks and practical experiments examples. Establishing the memory components that process different sounds will make strong predictions. It is predicted that pitch and speech sounds are processed in the phonological loop, and they will thus interact with and disrupt the concurrent recoded visually presented items in the phonological loop. Moreover, sounds with pitch height approximal to the pitch height of recoded visually presented items are found to be more disruptive. In contrast, brown noise is assumed not to be processed in the phonological loop but in the long sensory store. Therefore, there is no interaction between the brown noise and recoded visually presented items in the phonological loop. It is predicted that brown noise will not disrupt the recall performance of short-term memory. The multilevel logistic regression shows that pitch, noise and speech can all affect the performance of short-term memory. These results, in some way, support the hypothesis that pitch is processed in the phonological loop while the hypothesis that brown noise is not processed in the phonological loop is not supported. Attentional control can potentially be used to explain why the brown noise may disrupt short-term memory. 

The most interesting thing I’ve learnt from my research is that pitch with different heights could have different impact on the processing of language. This effect is particularly salient among tonal language speakers. This has led me further to ask how tonal language speakers discriminate and process different pitch. In particular, I want to know how they learn to discriminate different pitch in their first language acquisition period. I also want to know how pitch is represented in the human mind.

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