HC231H: Hearing is Believing: How we Understand Speech and Language

Professor: Melissa Baese-Berk

4.00 credits

  • CRN 24871: Tuesday & Thursday, 1200-1320 @ CHA 201

Humans are typically very good at understanding the speech they encounter in every day situations, even when that speech is in a noisy environment like a coffee shop or is produced by a new speaker they haven’t encountered before. Yet, automated speech recognition systems (e.g., Siri or Alexa) suggest the process of understanding human speech is not trivially easy through their often comical failures to understand our speech. This observation is further underscored by situations where humans do have challenges in understanding speech (e.g., understanding speech in an unfamiliar language even after extensive experience with the language). Decades of research have attempted to understand precisely how humans are able to quickly and accurately recognize the speech they hear, how this ability develops, and why, in some circumstances, this task can be so challenging.

In this class, we will explore how we understand speech and what factors impact our understanding of it. We will focus on primary literature, which, in this field, is typically quite accessible to a less-expert audience. Along with the specific course content, we will focus on critical thinking and scientific thinking skills necessary to interpret data and arguments made in a variety of domains. We will focus on presentation of content for one day each week and discussion or debate for the second day. The goal of this structure will be to encourage students to critically examine knowledge in the field and identify gaps where we can continue to build knowledge.