What happened this year? Lots of good things. Two great publications. One in the new open access journal recently launched by the Society for the Neurobiology of Language (The Neurobiology of Language). This was work led by Evelyne Mercure and you can read it here. Publishing in this new journal was a great experience. The journal has a consensus review model such that the handling editor synthesizes the reviews from reviewers and revisions are agreed among the panel before passing to the authors. This seems to work well and prevents conflicting suggestions of further work from reviewers with different perspectives. What was the study about? Using fNIRS, we measured neural responses of monolingual and bilingual infants (both sign-speech and spoken language bilinguals) to familiar and unfamiliar spoken and sign languages to understand how neural systems for language differ in bilinguals, of particular interest were neural systems in hearing children born to deaf parents, that are bilingual in sign language and speech, that likely don't have the same exposure to parental speech in-utero. One important finding was that unimodal bilingual experience was shown to have a greater impact on early brain lateralization than bimodal bilingual experience.
The other study was published in Current Biology and can be found here. In this study using fMRI we looked at whether the same semantic representations were accessed in adult sign-speech bilinguals when they attended to the same conceptual items presented as sign and speech. Interestingly we found that category representations, e.g. whether something was an animal or a fruit, etc., were similar but not neural patterns for individual concepts, e.g. the pattern for individual spoken words and signs were not identical. This suggests that the precise language that you use likely influences the way that you understand the world. Karen Emmorey wrote an excellent commentary on the article which can be read here.
We also published a pre-print of a large scale speech perception experiment from my time working Cambridge. Hopefully this can be shepherded to a journal near you soon... You can read it here. This was a massive study in which we tested over 1500 participants on a speech categorization task using a wider variety of phonemic contrasts than have been previously tested. The study shows that speech perception skills continue to develop until late childhood/early adulthood (~17 years of age) and demonstrates the role that lexical information has in shaping perception.
Other things that happened, Kathryn Hewson joined the lab as a PhD student working on studies of swearing and taboo language processing, we are looking forward to presenting this new line of work from the lab soon. We finalized the design of a multi site experiment for the language consortium that I helped to establish. We begun pre-registering BSc student projects and started our ReproducibiliTea journal club. Looking forward to what 2020 brings...