Welcome

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Hi! I am a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Linguistics, . My research interests are in speech science, sociophonetics, and more recently, social cognitive mechanisms involved in the processing of sociolinguistic variants. I also have a long-lasting research interest in the production and perception of lexical tones and speech prosody.

I am a member of the Language Variation and Cognition Lab. My advisor is Meredith Tamminga. The title of my doctoral dissertation is "The online adjustment of speaker-specific phonetic beliefs in multi-speaker speech perception". I am also affiliated with the Penn Phonetics Lab and the Cultural Evolution of Language Lab.

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Research

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Generally, I am interested in the acoustic and perceptual aspects of speech. Most of my recent studies focus on the problem of variability of speech, trying to answer (a) how speakers encode linguistic information in the acoustic space in different ways as a function of contextually flexible factors, based on acoustic measurements of lab-elicited and corpus-collected speech; and (b) how listeners take the social-contextual variabilities into account to uncover linguistically meaningful units from raw speech signals in their perception and processing behaviors. Besides, I have a long-lasting interest in suprasegmental aspects of speech, e.g., pitch, timing, intensity, voice quality, etc. My studies in this line focus on lexical tones and speech prosody.

The main topics of my research work are listed as follows:

Integration of social-indexical cues in linguistic processing

In spoken languages, linguistic meanings and social-indexical information of a talker are closely interwoven. Listeners not only find an interlocutor's speech more or less intelligible depending on their opinions about the speaker, but also hear different phoneme on the same piece of ambiguous signal depending on the perceived identity of the speaker. Studies in this vein extend to the field of social cognition and investigate questions such as how socio-indexical information is represented in listeners' brains and associated with linguistic variants, and how listeners consciously or unconsciously make use of these associations to form expectations, understandings (or misunderstandings) towards their interlocutors.

Flexibility of speech perception: compensation, adaptation, generalization

The acoustic realization of a particular phoneme may vary massively as a function of the linguistic environment, acoustic surrounding, social context, style, speech rate, talker identity, lexical properties, among others. Accordingly, listeners' speech perception mechanisms are very sophisticated and flexible. Listeners can not only adjust their phonemic boundaries perceived from ambiguous signals according to coarticulatory/ phonotactic/ lexical/ semantic contexts; they can also learn and memorize idiosyncratic acoustic distributions of phonemes for different talkers, and generalize the distribution to new talkers. This line of research investigates the linguistic and social structures that shape listeners' perceptual compensation, adaptation, and generalization.

Acoustics and perception of lexical tone variation

While much attention has been attributed to the acoustic measurements of tonal contrast and the establishment of tone typology, fewer attempts are made to explore tone variability. Different from segment, tone is mainly realized by F0, which is more heavily dependent on the talkers' sex and vocal state, and less on the oral track. Some of my recent studies start to investigate how talker sex, vocal effort, and tonal contrast are simultaneously encoded in the F0 space, and how listeners manage to resolve the ambiguity caused by acoustic overlap. I also care about the variability of tonal shapes as a function of lexical and prosodic structures, and methods to modle this variability. Besides, I have always wanted to look at the diachronic change of neutral tones by lexical items.

Measurement and Perception of intonation and prosody

I am interested in the typology, phonologization, acoustics, perception, and modeling of intonation and prosody. My research on prosody is twofold. One aspect is the measurement of prosodic parameters, with the hope that reliable parameters will enable us to reliably visualize the underlying structure of prosody, and to separate them from extrinsic F0 byproducts unrelated to the core properties of intonation. I also did some tentative work is an important but relatively understudied field. The project aims to use perception as a window to probe the linguistically meaningful prosody patterns, which attribute contrasting interpretations for a speech stretch.

Publications

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Journal Papers


  • Wei Lai, Jianjing Kuang (2020). The effect of speaker gender on Cantonese tone perception.The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 147, no. 6, 4119-4132.
  • Wei Lai, Peter Racz, Gareth Roberts (2020). Experience with a linguistic variant affects the acquisition of its sociolinguistic meaning: An alien-language-learning experiment. Cognitive Science. 44(4), e12832. [data]
  • Lacey Wade, Wei Lai and Meredith Tamminga (2020). The reliability of individual differences in VOT imitation. Language and Speech, 0023830920947769.
  • Meredith Tamminga, Robert Wilder, Wei Lai and Lacey Wade (2020). Perceptual learning, talker specificity and sound change. Papers in Historical Phonology, 5, 90-122.
  • Jiahong Yuan, Wei Lai, Chris Cieri and Mark Liberman (2018). Using Forced Alignment for Phonetics Research. Chinese Language Resources and Processing:Text, Speech and Language Technology. Springer.
  • Ya Li, Jianhua Tao, Wei Lai, and Xiaoying Xu (2017). Quantitative intonation modeling of interrogative sentences for Mandarin speech synthesis. Speech Communication, 89, 92-102.
  • Ya Li, Jianhua Tao, Keikichi Hirose, Xiaoying Xu and Wei Lai (2015). Hierarchical stress modeling and generation in mandarin for expressive Text-to-Speech. Speech Communication, 72, 59-73.

Submitted Manuscripts


  • Wei Lai, Lacey Wade and Meredith Tamminga. Individual differences in simultaneous perceptual compensation for coarticulatory and lexical cues. Under review.
  • Wei Lai and Aini Li. Integrating the phonological and phonetic aspects of Mandarin Tone 3 sandhi in auditory sentence disambiguation. Under review.

Conference Papers


  • Wei Lai, Aini Li (2020). Integrating the application and realization of Mandarin 3rd tone sandhi in the resolution of sentence ambiguity. In Proc. of Interspeech 2020.
  • Wei Lai, Mark Liberman and Qianxin He (2019). Compensation for F0 variation with vocal effort and vowel height in Cantonese tone perception. In Proc. ICPhS 2019. (pp. 1972-1976).
  • Wei Lai, Peter Racz and Gareth Roberts (2019). Unexpectedness makes a sociolinguistic variant easier to learn: An alien-language-learning experiment. In Proc. CogSci 2019. (pp. 604-610).
  • Wei Lai (2018). Voice Gender Effect on Tone Categorization and Pitch Perception. In Proc. TAL2018, Sixth International Symposium on Tonal Aspects of Languages. (pp. 103-107).
  • Wei Lai (2017). Auditory-visual integration of talker gender in Cantonese tone perception. In Proc. of Interspeech 2017. (pp. 664-668).
  • Wei Lai, Mark Liberman, Jiahong Yuan and Xiaoying Xu (2016). Prosodic strength intrinsic to lexical items: A corpus study on tone reduction in Tone4+ Tone4 words in Mandarin Chinese. In Chinese Spoken Language Processing (ISCSLP), 10th International Symposium. (pp. 1-5). IEEE.
  • Wei Lai, Jiahong Yuan, Ya Li, Xiaoying Xu, and Mark Liberman (2016). The Rhythmic Constraint on Prosodic Boundaries in Mandarin Chinese Based on Corpora of Silent Reading and Speech Perception. In Proc. of Interspeech 2016 (pp. 87-91). (best student paper award)
  • Wei Lai and Laura Dilley (2016). Cross-linguistic generalization of the distal rate effect: Speech rate in context affects whether listeners hear a function word in Chinese Mandarin. In Proceedings of Speech Prosody (Vol. 8, pp. 1124-1128).
  • Wei Lai and Jianjing Kuang (2016). Prosodic grouping in Chinese trisyllabic structules by multiple cues -- coarticulation, tone sandhi and consonant lenition. Tonal Aspects of Languages 2016, 157-161.
  • Jiahong Yuan, Xiaoying Xu, Wei Lai and Mark Liberman (2016). Pauses and pause fillers in Mandarin monologue speech: The effects of sex and proficiency. Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2016, 1167-1170.
  • Jiahong Yuan, Xiaoying Xu, Wei Lai, Weiping Ye, Xinru Zhao and Mark Liberman (2015). Sentence selection for automatic scoring of Mandarin proficiency. In Proceedings of the Eighth SIGHAN Workshop on Chinese Language Processing (pp. 21-25).
  • Wei Lai, Xiaoying Xu, Ya Li, Che, H., Shanfeng Liu, and Jianhua Tao (2014). Phonological influences on the realization of final lowering: Evidence from dialogue Chinese Mandarin. In 17th Oriental Chapter of the International Committee for the Co-ordination and Standardization of Speech Databases and Assessment Techniques (pp. 1-6). IEEE.
  • Wei Lai, Ya Li, Che, H., Shanfeng Liu, Jianhua Tao, and Xiaoying Xu (2014). Final lowering effect in questions and statements of Chinese Mandarin based on a large-scale natulal dialogue corpus Analysis. Proc. 7th Speech Prosody, 653-657.
  • Ya Li, Jianhua Tao, Keikichi Hirose, Wei Lai and Xiaoying Xu (2014). Hierarchical stress generation with Fujisaki model in expressive speech synthesis. Proc. 7th Speech Prosody, 1032-1036.

Presentation

2020

  • Villanova University. Coping with habitual and situational speech variability in speech perception. Psychological and Brain Sciences. April 30. (invited talk).
  • The Chinese University of Hong Kong. A psycholinguitic study on Chinese tone variation}. Department of Chinese Language and Literature. April 3. (invited talk).
  • Saarland University. Encoding and decoding information through structured speech variability. Department of Language Science and Technology. Jan 21. (invited talk).
  • Wei Lai and Aini Li. Integrating phonetic and phonological aspects of Mandarin 3rd tonesandhi in the auditory disambiguation of short and long sentences.17th Conference on Lab-oratory Phonology. Vancouver, Canada.
  • Wei Lai and Aini Li. The integration of Mandarin third tone sandhi in auditorysentence disambiguation.Conference on Human Sentence Processing (CUNY). Boston, MA.

2019

  • Wei Lai, Mark Liberman and Qianxin He. Compensation for F0 variation with vocal effort and vowel height in Cantonese tone perception Internaltional Congress of Phonetic Sciences ICPhS 2019, Melboulne, Australia. 2019.
  • Meredith Tamminga, Lacey Wade and Wei Lai. The search for predictors of individualdifferences in VOT imitation.The 48th New Ways of Analyzing Variation. Eugene, Oregon.
  • Wei Lai, Peter Racz amd Gareth Roberts. Unexpectedness makes a sociolinguistic variant easier to learn: An alien-language-learning experiment. The 41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Montreal, Canada. 2019.
  • Wei Lai and Meredith Tamminga. Individual differences in simultaneous compensation for coarticu-latory and lexical cues. The 5th Workshop of Sound Change, UC Davis, CA.
  • Wei Lai, Peter Racz and Gareth Roberts. Experience with a linguistic variant affects the acquisition of its sociolinguistic meaning: An alien-language-learning experiment. 93th Linguistic Society of America, New York City, NY.

2018

  • Wei Lai, Peter Racz and Gareth Roberts. Prior experience with a linguistic variant affects the acquisition of its social meaning: An experimental simulation using alien language learning. New Ways of Analyzing Variation 47, New York City, NY.
  • Wei Lai. Gender stereotypes affect the perception of tone and pitch. New Ways of Analyzing Variation 47, New York City, NY.
  • Wei Lai. Voice gender effect on tone categorization and pitch perception. 6th International Symposium on Tonal Aspects of Languages. Berlin, German.
  • Wei Lai and Mark Liberman. A rhythmic constraint on prosodic boundaries in Mandarin Chinese based on corpora of silent reading and speech perception. 92th Linguistic Society of America, Salt Lake City, UT.
  • Wei Lai. Auditory-visual integration of talker gender in Cantonese tone perception. 92th Linguistic Society of America, Salt Lake City, UT.
  • Meredith Tamminga, Lacey Wade and Wei Lai. Stability and variability in phonetic flexibility. 92th Linguistic Society of America, Salt Lake City, UT.

2016

  • Wei Lai, Jiahong Yuan, Ya Li, Xiaoying Xu and Mark Liberman. The rhythmic constraint on prosodic boundaries in mandarin Chinese Based on corpora of silent reading and speech perception. Interspeech 2016. San Francisco, CA.
  • Wei Lai, Mark Liberman, Jiahong Yuan and Xiaoying Xu.Prosodic strength intrinsic to lexical items: A corpus study on tone reduction in Tone4+Tone4 words in Mandarin Chinese. 10th Chinese Spoken Language Processing (ISCSLP). Tianjin, China.
  • Wei Lai and Laura Dilley (2016). Cross-linguistic generalization of the distal rate effect: Speech rate in context affects whether listeners hear a function word in Chinese Mandarin. 8th Speech Prosody. Boston, MA.
  • Wei Lai and Jianjing Kuang (2016). Prosodic grouping in Chinese trisyllabic structules by multiple cues -- coarticulation, tone sandhi and consonant lenition. Tonal Aspects of Languages 2016. Buffalo, NY.

2014

  • Wei Lai, Xiaoying Xu, Ya Li, Hao Che, Shanfeng Liu, and Jianhua Tao (2014). Phonological influences on the realization of final lowering evidence from dialogue Chinese Mandarin. 17th Co-ordination and Standardization of Speech Databases and Assessment Techniques (COCOSDA) . Phuket, Thailand.
  • Wei Lai, Ya Li, Che, H., Shanfeng Liu, Jianhua Tao, and Xiaoying Xu. Final lowering effect in questions and statements of Chinese Mandarin based on a large-scale natulal dialogue corpus Analysis. 7th Speech Prosody. Dublin, Ireland.
  • Ya Li, Jianhua Tao, Keikichi Hirose, Wei Lai and Xiaoying Xu. Hierarchical stress generation with Fujisaki model in expressive speech synthesis. 7th Speech Prosody. Dublin, Ireland.

Teaching

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Teaching on [t/d] lenition. Photo credit to Desen Lin.

Teaching
Summer 2020 Instructor of LING120 - Introduction to Sociolinguistics.
Spring 2018 TA of LING210 - Introduction to Language Change.
Fall 2017 Recitation TA of LING001 - Introduction to Linguistics. Recitation.
Spring 2017 Recitation TA of LING001 - Introduction to Linguistics.


Service
2015 - 2020 Editorial Member of Penn Working Papers in Linguistics (PWPL)
March 2017 Finiance Committee of the 41th Penn Linguistics Conference (PLC41)
March 2016 PR Committee of the 40th Penn Linguistics Conference (PLC40)
Spring 2016 Coordinator of Penn GradLings Speaker Series
Fall 2015 Coordinator Assistant of Penn GradLings Speaker Series

Contact


Mailing address


Department of Linguistics
University of Pennsylvania

3401-C Walnut Street
Suite 300, C Wing
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6228


Email: weilai[at]sas[dot]upenn[dot]edu