Minding our language: Stefan Frisch joins Real Scientists!

This week, we are extremely happy to welcome Stefan Frisch (@StefanAFrisch), a researcher in speech production and language at the University of South Florida, where he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Stefan Frisch

Stefan Frisch

Dr. Frisch received a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with High Distinction from the University of Illinois, a Master of Arts in Linguistics from the University of Wisconsin, and a Doctorate in Linguistics from Northwestern University under the supervision of Janet Pierrehumbert. He received post-doctoral training in the Speech Research Laboratory at Indiana University under the supervision of David Pisoni.  Dr. Frisch was appointed the Language Learning Visiting Research Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Linguistics, from 1998-2000.  Dr. Frisch joined the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of South Florida in 2001 and holds an affiliate appointment in the Department of Psychology.  In 2011, Dr. Frisch received a Fulbright scholarship to conduct research at Cardiff University, Wales, United Kingdom.  His research interests are in pyscholinguistics, phonetics, and phonology.  He studies the processes of speech production, speech perception, and metalinguistic language processing in order to better understand the ways in which language sound structure is organized in the mind/brain.

Here is what Stefan had to say about his journey with science so far:

It started with a solid public school education growing up in Minnesota combined with parents who worked with computers. I had some level of talent for science that was encouraged by my high school teachers. While in my senior year in high school, I decided that I liked the idea of teaching but was interested in teaching students that were more mature than those in high school so that meant getting a graduate degree and teaching at a college or university.

I finished my undergraduate program at University of Illinois in Mathematics with departmental honors. I started graduate school in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and part of the program there involved minor courses in a related field. Many students chose computer science, but I had had plenty of course work in computer science as an undergraduate. I had some interest in mathematical and logical analysis of human and computer languages so I tried a course in linguistics. I very quickly fell in love with the field.

I am a university professor so my work is a combination of research, teaching, and service. I am in a department of communication sciences and disorders that trains students who are interested in speech and language therapy or in deafness and hearing loss. My service at the moment is serving as interim department chair after our previous chair took a job as a dean and we conduct a job search for a new chair. My teaching is generally on the basic science behind speech and language or on how to do research. My own research is about language sound structure. I am interested in how the mental dictionary of the sounds of words is organized and how it is accessed when we talk and listen. I am also interested in how the processes of speaking and listening might have shaped language over time. In my current research, I examine how speech movements are coordinated in normal speech and in challenging tongue twisters. I also analyze the dictionary of English and of other languages for sound patterns and then conduct experiments using made-up words based on those sound patterns.

Language may be the ultimate human cultural achievement that separates us from other animals. Written language is certainly crucial to the advancement of human culture, whether you look at religion, science, or commerce. Communication is very important to humans and without language, communication is very limited. To the extent that my work touches on communication disorders and also computer speech applications it has broader implications in health and technology.

I play tennis for exercise and in competitive leagues. I’m pretty good. And since I live in Florida, I can mostly play all year round. So on an ideal day off, I would get up and play tennis, come home, and take a nap. Then sit in a hammock in the shade of a tree and read a book for fun. To finish the day, I would probably grill a steak for dinner and have some red wine.

Please welcome Stefan to Real Scientists!

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