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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

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Level: PhD
Duty: Research
Linguistic Field: Computational Linguistics Language Evolution
Application Deadline: 01-Jul-2012
Supporting Institution: Vrije Univesiteit Brussel
Artificial Intelligence Department
LL Issue: 23.2285
Posted: 11-May-2012
Support Description: PhD on machine learning of combinatorial speech

We are looking for someone who has (or who is about to complete) a master's
degree in computer science, (cognitive) artificial intelligence, modeling of
language evolution or equivalent. You will work on a PhD project that is part of
Bart de Boer's European Research Council ABACUS project.

The ABACUS project
ABACUS is a European Research Council funded project that attempts to
advance our understanding of the evolution of (potentially language-specific)
cognitive adaptations for speech. It focuses on combinatorial speech: the ability
to combine a limited number of building blocks into an unlimited number of
utterances according to learned rules. An important open question is how much
of combinatorial speech is due to general cognitive abilities in combination with
cultural evolution and how much is due to language-specific cognitive biases.
The project combines individual and iterated learning experiments with
computational modeling in order to address this question.

The PhD project
Your work consists of designing, implementing, investigating and describing
computer models for learning and reproduction of continuous, speech-like
signals. You will closely cooperate with (PhD) students doing individual and
iterated learning experiments.

We are looking for candidates with a serious interest in a scientific career,
with good writing skills and with experience in building learning systems.
Experience with speech/language research as well as affinity with experimental
work are a plus.

Theme: Computer modeling of learning and productive use of combinatorial structure

Aim 1: Design and implement learning systems to investigate how
combinatorial structure of continuous, speech-like signals can be learnt and
then used in production and perception.

Aim 2a: Help to generate hypotheses about human behavior.

Aim 2b: Investigate what needs to be put into the models (in the form of a
priori biases, learning biases, representational biases etc.) to get human-like

Methods: Agent based models, focusing on the learning mechanisms of the
individual agents (but in principle able to operate as members of a linguistic

You apply for a four year PhD scholarship of approximately € 36 000 (before
taxes) per year, with additional money to visit conferences. You will work in a
recently formed international and interdisciplinary research group. The group is
part of the computer science department, but it investigates questions about
(the evolution of) cognition and language, using a combination of experiment
and computer modeling. You will be asked to do a limited amount of teaching
and supervision, but that will take up no more than 20% of your working time.
As part of your PhD project, you will have the possibility to spend a few months
at a different institute.

How to Apply
We need a letter of motivation, a CV, a copy of your master's thesis (or in case
you have not completed this, another sample of your writing), a list of your
grades and the contact information of two people who can provide references.
You can send these in pdf format to Bart de Boer: bart Linguist List arti.vub.ac.be
mentioning "ABACUS PhD3" in the subject. For inquiries you can send a
message to this same address, or phone +32 2 629 3700. The deadline for
application is July first, 2012.
Application Mailing Address: Prof Bart de Boer
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Dienst ARTI
Pleinlaan 2
Brussels 1050
Application Web Address: https://ai.vub.ac.be/members/bart/ABACUSPhD3
Contact Information: Prof Bart de Boer