What we work on
Successful speech understanding depends on many different factors including the hearing status of the listener, the complexity of the message, and conditions like noise, reverberation, and lighting in the communication environment. The Speech Perception Laboratory at the University of Utah investigates talker factors that affect speech understanding in listeners with hearing loss, especially older adults.
Our chief interest is in clear speech, the speech that talkers produce when their communication partner is having trouble understanding them. Talkers are usually, but not always, easier to understand when they try to speak clearly. We carry out studies that seek to determine what makes clear speech clear and hope to develop training programs for talkers who aren’t naturally good at making their speech easier to understand for their hard-of-hearing family and friends. We are also interested in how different accents affect everyday communication, including foreign accents as well as different dialects of English.
Projects in the lab range from acoustic analyses of previously-recorded speech materials, to perceptual experiments where listeners identify or rate what they’ve heard, to speech production studies in which participants’ speech is recorded during various tasks in various test conditions.
Where we are and what we have
The Speech Perception Laboratory, directed by Dr. Sarah Hargus Ferguson, is located on the 12th floor of the Behavioral Sciences Building on the University of Utah lower campus. The street address is 390 South, 1530 East. Parking is available in the visitor lot next to the Marriott Library and is provided to research participants at no cost. For most studies , listeners are tested in a 7’x 7’ sound-treated room in front of a computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The booth has a large window overlooking the Salt Lake Valley. Other studies are carried out in a larger IAC audiometric test booth located elsewhere on the 12th floor. In a typical perceptual study, test sounds are presented at conversational listening levels via insert earphones using a Tucker-Davis Technologies Psychoacoustics and Speech workstation and computer located outside the test room. Listeners usually respond to stimuli by clicking on categories shown on the monitor, such as by choosing the vowel they heard or rating how clearly a sentence had been spoken. Speech production studies may involve reading words, sentences, or passages aloud from a computer screen or printed list or more spontaneous tasks like describing pictures. Speech is recorded using a headset microphone; other equipment may also be used to record respiration or voicing.