Pitch Imitation in Speakers of Tone Languages

Screenshot of Praat langauge software being used.

How much do you imitate other people's voices when you speak with them? The language you speak may play a big role.

Project description

Speakers of human languages regularly imitate each others speech in very subtle, unconscious ways. Research has shown that the goal of this imitation is often to accommodate other speakers - if you sound more like the person you are speaking with, you are more likely to be understood and build a relationship. One area of imitation is in the pitch of your voice - if another person produces speech with a higher pitch or emphasizes a certain word, you are more likely to follow suit and imitate them in this way. Yet, not all languages treat pitch the same way. In tonal languages, like Chinese, pitch changes meanings in words. So, speakers do not have the same flexibility to modify their pitch values when listening to another talker than speakers of a non-tonal language, like English, do.

The goals of the current project are to examine how much imitation takes place between speakers in three languages - English, Chinese, and Itunyoso Triqui (a tone language in Mexico). Ideal undergraduate candidates will have experience in acoustic phonetics, the use of Praat (a software package), and some background in linguistics. Students will be trained in the use of additional tools for speech processing as needed. The tasks involve processing recordings of the speech signal in the different languages of the project. Knowledge of Mandarin Chinese will be especially helpful. 

Project outcome

Student work will culminate in a presentation at a conference (to be attended remotely). Students who participate in the project long-term will be co-authors of resulting research submitted for publication. 

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment Longer than a semester, about 6-9 months
Start time Spring or Summer 2022
In-person, remote, or hybrid? Hybrid
Level of collaboration Small group project (2-3 students)
Benefits Research experience
Who is eligible All undergraduate students with familiarity with linguistics, acoustic phonetics, and Praat software. Knowledge of Mandarin Chinese is also helpful.

Project mentor

Christian DiCanio

Associate Professor


Phone: (716) 645-0113

Email: cdicanio@buffalo.edu

Start the project

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Preparation activities

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