Language Acquisition, Processing, and Pedagogy Lab


⦿ Congratulations to Dr. Zhe Gao on starting her position as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University!

⦿ Chloe Sinagra and Seth published their COVID-19 study, "The perception of intonational and emotional speech prosody produced with and without a face mask: an exploratory individual differences study" in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.

⦿ Dr. Zhe Gao's first study from her dissertation, "Acquisition of Chinese Verb Separation by Adult L2 Learners" is out now in Languages.

⦿ Dr. Hui Zhang's study, "Adjustment of cue weighting in speech by speakers and listeners: Evidence from amplitude and duration modifications of Mandarin Chinese tone" is out now in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

⦿ Learn about the exciting research being done in the Second Language Acquisition program at Carnegie Mellon University!

⦿ Follow LAPP Lab on Twitter @Lapp_Lab.


The Language Acquisition, Processing, and Pedagogy (LAPP) Lab at Carnegie Mellon University was established in 2015. Our lab carries out experimental research on a variety of issues pertaining to first and second language users and processes. At LAPP Lab, our unique interest is in understanding the mechanisms and architecture underlying language acquisition and processing, and then applying this knowledge to develop real-world pedagogical innovations. LAPP Lab is a member of the Pittsburgh Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience (PCAN) network. To learn about our recently published studies, click on any topic below. For free copies of our published papers, materials, and data (when available), contact the lab's PI, Seth Wiener.

These student-led projects have come from the "Language in the time of COVID-19" interdisciplinary course, as well as guided sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics independent studies. This research tries to understand how the pandemic has affected various aspects of language use.

How do face masks affect the recognition of minimal pairs (words that only differ by one speech sound) that involve lip rounding (e.g., 'ship' has lip-rounding, but 'sip' does not)? The study found that face masks do not make it harder to discriminate between minimal pairs like ship/sip. This was the case for first and second language English listeners. This study was published in an undergraduate research journal at Johns Hopkins University. Read more about the students and their project here.
Zhang, L., Vasudev, A., Hill, S., & Stempien-Smith, A. (2021). The Role of Face Masks in Native and Non-Native Speech Perception. Richard Macksey Journal, 2(1), 27862.

Do listeners have race-based expectations of talkers when talking about COVID-19? The study found that speaker judgments varied in response to the type of language the speaker used. For example, saying 'COVID-19 impacts people' versus 'COVID-19 harms people' resulted in differ judgments about the speaker. No overall difference was found for speakers of different races, but an exploratory analysis found interesting follow-up questions to explore. This work was presented at the 2022 Linguistics Society of America annual conference. Read more about the students and their project here.
Cole, K., Chan, B., & Wiener, S. Black Aggression in the Wake of Pandemic Panic: Effects of Word Choice and Race on Speaker Judgments. 96th Linguistics Society of America Meeting, Washington DC, January 7, 2022.

Do face masks affect a listener's understanding of emotional and intonational prosody? The utterance, 'It rained today' could be a happy utterance (the crops needed rain) or a sad utterance (the outdoor wedding was cancelled) or as a statement utterance (factual information about the weather) or as a question utterance (did it actually rain?). The way these three words convey different messages is through prosody. This study found that masks make understanding both happy/sad emotional prosody and statement/question intonational prosody more difficult (relative to speech without masks).
Sinagra, C., & Wiener, S. (2022). The perception of intonational and emotional speech prosody produced with and without a face mask: an exploratory individual differences study. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 7, 89.

This research involves acoustic-phonetic studies of speech perception and production. These primarily lab-based studies are rooted in phonetic theory and, we hope, have some potential application to teaching and learning.

What acoustic dimensions or cues are talkers and listeners weighting and does this cue-weighting change with different communicative demands? This study looks at phonated and whispered Mandarin speech and how amplitude and duration cues are adjusted by the talker and the listener.
Zhang, H., Wiener, S., & Holt, L. L. (2022). Adjustment of cue weighting in speech by speakers and listeners: Evidence from amplitude and duration modifications of Mandarin Chinese tone. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 151 (2), 992-1005.

What makes acquiring fricatives like /v/ and /θ/ so difficult? This study looked at the acquisition of English /v, θ, ð/ by adult L2 learners.
Wiener, S., Gao, Z., Li, X., & Wu, Z. (2022). Acquisition of non-sibilant anterior English fricatives by adult second language learners. Journal of Second Language Pronunciation, 8 (1), 68-94.

This research examines how words in a first and second language are stored, activated, processed, and retrieved, and how lexical knowledge interacts with other cognitive processes.

How does knowing a word like 'made,' affect learning and accessing new L2 words that sound identical but have different meanings and orthography, like 'maid'? Using Mandarin Chinese as the test language--a language with a relatively high degree of homophony--the study found a homophone advantage. Homophones were learned more accurately and identified faster than non-homophones.
Liu, J. & Wiener, S. (2020). Homophones facilitate lexical development in a second language. System, 91, xx-xx.

How do heritage language bilinguals access words in their mental lexicon? Theoretically, a bilingual must store information in memory about how words sound (phonology), how they are written (orthography), and what they mean (semantics). Heritage speakers are unique in that they are often exposed to speech as children but do not necessarily reach an adult-like level of proficiency. The study found that exposure to a heritage language as a child affects how bilingual lexical information is stored and accessed.
Wiener, S. & Tokowicz, N. (2021). Language proficiency is only part of the story: Lexical access in heritage and non-heritage bilinguals. Second Language Research, 37(4), 681-695.

How does lexical knowledge--like knowing that 'kiss' is a word and 'giss' is not a word--affect categorization of phonetic categories (like /k/ and /g/)? The study found that L2 Mandarin listeners are biased by their L2 lexical knowledge (knowing that 'hei' with a high-level tone is a word resulted in more high-level tones reported for 'hei' stimuli). Interestingly, this effect was constrained by a listener's perceptual abilities. Even knowing that 'hei1' is a word may not matter if the listener cannot hear the pitch difference involved in Mandarin tones.
Wiener, S. & Liu, J. (2021). Effects of perceptual abilities and lexical knowledge on the phonetic categorization of second language speech. JASA Express Letters 1, 045202.

This research is aimed at understanding how phonetic, phonological, morphological, and syntactic information is processed and understood in real time. This research uses eye-tracking technology to examine language users' online processing.

What is the time course of knowledge-based (e.g., closets contain clothes) and morphosyntactic-based (e.g., singular/plural, gender, classifier) cue integration in native and non-native listeners? This study found that listeners immediately integrate their knowledge of real world context with language specific semantics.
Wiener, S. & Rohde, H. (2021). What did you expect? Linguistic prediction occurs in both a first and second language but there are differences. Poster at the 3rd International Symposium on Bilingual and L2 Processing in Adults and Children (ISBPAC).
Lin, Y., Rohde, H., & Wiener, S. (2022). More participants, fewer trials: A silver lining of moving eye-tracking experiments online. Poster at the 35th Annual Conference on Human Sentence Processing (HSP).

How does speech from multiple talkers (relative to a single talker) and explicit instruction (relative to no instruction) affect L2 spoken word recognition? This study found that while instruction type did not affect listeners, multiple talkers (i.e., high variability speech) resulted in more uncertainty by the listener and a greater reliance on likely sound patterns.
Wiener, S., Ito, K., & Speer, S. R. (2021). Effects of multi-talker input and instructional method on the dimension-based statistical learning of syllable-tone combinations: An eye-tracking study. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 43 (1), 155-180.

This research is aimed at developing novel methods of instruction and learning rooted in experimental design. These studies are highly interdisciplinary and aimed at promoting a wide range of linguistic skills.

Can L2 word learning be improved by creating short phrases about the word's meaning? This study, by Zhe Gao (ABD; Carnegie Mellon Univeristy) examined whether Mandarin disyllabic compound words like 'salary' (xin1shui3), which consist of the morpheme for firewood (xin1) and the morpheme for water (shui3), can be better learned if the phrase 'a salary helps pay for firewood and water' is presented to the learner. The study found that this elaborative encoding method improved learning and retention of new L2 Mandarin words.
Gao, Z. (2020). L2 learning of opaque Chinese compounds through elaborative encoding. Chinese as a Second Language, 55 (1), 1-23.

Can a videogame teach a second language better than a classroom? This work explores an alternative to traditional classroom-based explicit learning: incidental task-based learning. In our approach, a learner’s attention is directed away from the to-be-learned foreign-language speech categories by an engaging videogame task that does not involve overt category decisions or language learning per se. Our preliminary findings suggest that incidental task-based learning of non-native speech categories supports a wide range of perception and production outcomes. This work is funded by the NIH and Language Learning.
Wiener, S., Murphy, T. K., Goel, A., Christel, M. G., & Holt, L. L. (2019). Incidental learning of non-speech auditory analogs scaffolds second language learners’ perception and production of Mandarin lexical tones. In S. Calhoun, P. Escudero, M. Tabain, and P. Warren (Eds.), Proc. 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Melbourne, Australia 2019 (pp. 1699-1703). Canberra, Australia: Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association Inc.

Can structured short-term musical training be used to improve linguistic abilities for second language learners of Mandarin Chinese? The study found that a focused, 8-week musical training program can be effective in improving L2 perception of tone, especially when the music training was combined with structured classroom learning.
Wiener, S. & Bradley, E. D. (In press). Harnessing the musician advantage: Short-term musical training affects non-native cue weighting of linguistic pitch. Language Teaching Research, xx-xx.

The lab has two standing research groups: Psychling--the behavioral psycholinguistics group--and StatsEye--the R and eye-tracking group. (Logos designed by Malia D. Bramlett.)


Seth Wiener
Principal Investigator

Seth is originally from Indiana (and Ohio). He is mostly interested in dumplings, cereal, and comedy. He is an Associate Editor for the journal Applied Psycholinguistics. Learn more about him on the podcast, "Lost in Citations."

Tim Murphy
Ph.D. Student

Tim is a student in the CMU Department of Psychology and a member of HoltLab@CMU. He is interested in cognitive science, second language learning, phonology, and auditory neuroscience.

Chisom Obasih
Ph.D. Student

Chisom is a student in the CMU Department of Psychology and a member of HoltLab@CMU. She is interested in speech perception, second language acquisition, psycholinguistics training methods for language learning, and auditory neuroscience.

Chun-Ying Tu
Ph.D. Student

Chun-Ying is a student in the CMU Department of Modern Languages. She is from Taiwan and is interested in bilingualism and the mental lexicon. She likes to eat and enjoys delicious food, art, drawing, and painting.

Botagoz Tusmagambet
Ph.D. Student

Botagoz is a student in the CMU Department of Modern Languages. She is from Kazakhstan and is interested in L2 reading and language assessment. She likes to run and swim.

Adam Bramlett
Ph.D. Student

Adam is a student in the CMU Department of Modern Languages. He is interested in understanding language learning and non-native speech perception through psycholinguistics, data analytics, and open science. He enjoys spending time with family, hiking with Leo -his dog- on birding adventures, and trying not to kill his herb “garden”.

Martina Gai

Martina is a Statistics and Machine Learning major. She's interested in speech perception and enjoys SCUBA diving.

Chloe Sinagra

Chloe is a Pittsburgh native pursuing a Biology/Psychology major and a Gender Studies minor. She enjoys Trader Joes and ceramics.

Xiaohan Liu

Xiaohan is a Statistics and Chinese Studies double major, and a Linguistics minor. She is interested in language data analysis, and enjoys national parks, traveling, taking walks, and a good cup of coffee.

Mudita Sai

Mudita is a Statistics and Machine Learning major. She is interested in the acquired learning patterns between monolinguals and multilinguals. Her hobbies include playing video games and going around Pittsburgh trying new restaurants.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew has not been seen in the lab for quite some time, and he really isn't known for his linguistics, but his heart is in the work.

Lab Alumni

Graduate students: Tianxu Chen, Ph.D., Zhe Gao, Ph.D.

Undergraduate students: Hannah Anderson, Yuan Bing, Angela Chen, Komal Dewan, Prina Doshi, Maxine Graves, Jieming (Lewis) Li, Yuanpu (Yvonne) Ma, Youna Song, Radhika Subramani, Lakshmi Tumati, Katie Wise, Hui Zhang, Katherine Zhang, Guodong Zhao



Interested in learning more, gaining research experience or participating in one of our studies? Contact the lab's PI, Seth Wiener, for more information.