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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,Teaching
Linguistic Field: Cognitive Science Language Evolution
Application Deadline: 10-Jul-2012
Supporting Institution: Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
LL Issue: 23.2639
Posted: 07-Jun-2012
Support Description: PhD on iterated learning of combinatorial speech

We are looking for someone who has (or who is about to complete) a master's
degree in psycholinguistics, cognitive science or equivalent. You will work on a
PhD project that is part of Bart de Boer's ERC starting grant ABACUS project.
https://ai.vub.ac.be/members/bart

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, performing and describing iterated learning
experiments based on learning and reproduction of continuous, speech-like
signals. You will closely cooperate with computational modelers and (PhD)
students investigating individual learning.

We are looking for candidates with a serious interest in a scientific career, with
good writing skills and with experience in doing experiments with human
participants. Experience with speech/language research as well as affinity with
computational models are a plus.

Theme: Experiments on emergence of combinatorial structure in speech.

Aim: To design and perform iterated learning experiments where participants
develop repertoires of signals in different modalities and different communicative
settings.

Research questions: Does combinatorial structure emerge in iterated learning
through transfer from one generation to the next, or through social coordination, or
both? How does this process work? Does the modality of the signals play a role in
this? Does the communicative setting play a role in this?

Method: Experiments in the iterated learning and social coordination framework.

Conditions
You apply for a four year PhD scholarship of approximately € 36 000 (before taxes)
per year, with additional money to visit conferences and to hire research
assistants. 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.

The envisaged starting date is September 1st, 2012

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. Please
send these in pdf format to Bart de Boer: bart Linguist List arti.vub.ac.be mentioning
"ABACUS PhD1" 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
Pleinlaan 2
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Dienst ARTI
Brussels 1050
Belgium
Contact Information: Prof Bart de Boer
bart@arti.vub.ac.be