Linguistics Research Proposal

'Hidden behind a smile: acquisition and societal perception of speech sounds in children with cleft lip and palate.'

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Hidden behind a smile: acquisition and societal perception of speech sounds in children with cleft lip and palate. 

Due to a hereditary genetic mutation, 1 in 700 children in the UK are born with a cleft lip and/or palate (CLP). This is when the mouth does not fuse correctly as the fetus develops, causing a gap in the lip and/or the roof of the mouth (the palate). This can lead to issues in a child’s speech development, particularly in the production of plosives [p b t d k g] and fricatives [f v s z sh th]. 

After the initial CLP repair surgeries at 6-12 months, most children with CLP will also undergo speech and language therapy (SLT) to identify misarticulations and move to correct them. The aim is to complete speech therapy by around the age of 5 so that children with CLP can be integrated into the school system with intelligible speech. 

I plan to use pre-existing auditory data from a range of children with CLP and normally developing children to create a perception study. This is to identify the success of SLT in providing children with CLP with the same standard of speech as their normally developing peers. The speech recordings will be presented to a large group of non-specialists who will be asked if they perceive the child in the audio clips as having CLP or not. Participants will also be asked to explore further their attitudes towards such speech as well as providing insight into a child’s intelligibility by being asked to identify the words spoken by the children in both groups. I have chosen to use audio recordings as I would like responses entirely based on auditory perception without interjection of the interpretations of visible movement within the mouth. This data will be used in my analysis.

From this study, we can gain a stronger understanding of the perception of speech in children with CLP. This could offer insight into the durability of corrective speech therapies as well as how society views the parameters of speech sound acquisition. Ultimately, knowledge from this project could be applied to the future of speech therapies. 

I have chosen this project as I am not only interested in real world perceptions of language but also because of my familial relationships with people who have CLP. I will ensure success in my project by working closely with my mentors and taking the time to learn to learn about perceptual testing and to read the relevant literature. 

In my second summer, I would like to have a more hands on experience in working with those with speech impediments both to complement my research and begin to apply it practically. This would include either volunteering with a charity focused on supporting children with CLP such as CLAPA or shadowing a speech therapist. 

I believe that this project is interesting and relevant to society. The findings from this study have the potential to influence other research in a variety of fields such as speech and language therapy, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics. This study will allow for further exploration into speech therapies and an enhanced understanding of phonological analysis. 

Emily Shepherdson (she/they)

Student , University of York

Hi! I'm originally from Hull, East Yorkshire but I'm currently a first year undergraduate student studying for a BA in Linguistics and ab initio Italian at the University of York. Alongside my studies, I am also the current blog coordinator for the University Feminist Society. Being a Laidlaw Scholar allows me to research the success of speech and language therapies in my project entitled 'Hidden behind a smile: acquisition and societal perception of speech sounds in children with cleft lip and palate.'! 

My pronouns are she/they, please feel free to use either!