Richard B. Millward Colloquium (9/13/2017): Iris Berent (Northeastern University)

Iris Berent’s research focuses on the issue of universal constraints in language and how it interacts with reading ability and disability. Her work spans multiple disciplines such as phonology, neurology, as well as developmental issues like language acquisition and dyslexia, and involves various experimental methods like behavioral studies and measures of brain responses. For more information, her website is here.

On the origins of phonology

Why do humans drink and drive, but rarely rdink and rdive? Here, I suggest that these regularities could reflect abstract phonological principles that are active in the minds and brains of all speakers. In support of this hypothesis, I show that (a) people converge on the same phonological preferences (e.g., drarda) even when the relevant structures (e.g., dra, rda) are unattested in their language; and (b) their behavior is inexplicable by purely sensorimotor pressures and experience with similar syllables. Further support for the distinction between phonology and the sensorimotor system is presented by their dissociation in dyslexia, on the one hand, and the transfer of phonological knowledge from speech to sign, on the other. A detailed analysis of the phonological system can elucidate the functional architecture of the typical mind/brain and the etiology of speech and language disorders.