Alexander Martin

Centre for Language Evolution  |  University of Edinburgh

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the CLE within the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Languages Sciences of the University of Edinburgh, working with Jenny Culbertson. I am generally interested in the way humans process the sounds of their native language and the way linguistic systems change over time.

You can download my full CV here.


You can download stimuli, analysis scripts, and data from some of my experiments here.

Current Projects

Scope-isomorphism preference in the noun phrase

We are interested in understanding learners’ biases with regards to the relative ordering of nominal modifiers (specifically demonstratives, numerals, and adjectives). Learners faced with a new artificial language tend to assume orders of these modifiers that correspond to the linguistic typology. We test the robustness of this effect by examining diverse linguistic populations in an attempt to understand if these preferences derive from an underlying cognitive bias, or are rather transfer effects from learners’ L1.

with Jennifer Culbertson, Klaus Abels, and David Adger

Learning biases for phonetically natural rules

The aim of this project is to examine different parameters that come into play during the learning of different kinds of phonological rules (specifically phonetically natural and typologically abundant rules compared to unnatural, unattested ones), and the different levels at which a learning bias can be observed. We explore this “naturality” effect in different tasks (based both in perception and production), and different populations, and by modulating variability in the input, and exploring differential effects of memory consolidation after sleep. We also study the role of bias in transmission over time with the help of computer simulations.

with Adriana Guevara-Rukoz and Sharon Peperkamp

Phonological emergence in language contact

As phonological contrasts can be lost over time, so too can they emerge. This project focusses on a current emergence in Dutch (namely /ɡ/) with the specific aim of exploring the different levels at which phonological emergence can occur (perception, production, the lexicon), and what social (foreign language knowledge/use, education, region) and linguistic (phonological and phonetic specificities of the language) factors may be at play.

with Marieke van Heugten, René Kager, and Sharon Peperkamp

Past Projects

Perceptual asymmetries in phonological processing

This project focusses on asymmetrical processing of phonological features during speech perception, both in prelexical phonological processing, and in word recognition. Its goal is to tease apart lexical bias from low-level acoustic bias. It includes a computational component focussing on measuring lexical functional load to explain lexical influence on perception.

with Sharon Peperkamp

Sound symbolism

Looking at the classic bouba-kiki effect, we explored the role of different segment types (specifically consonants vs. vowels) on sound–shape associations in adults. We found that in line with research on lexical access, consonants seem to have a much more important role in these associations. We also explored the effect in prelexical infants and found that 5–6 month-olds were not sensitive to such sound symbolism.

with Mathilde Fort, Alexa Weiß, and Sharon Peperkamp


Journal articles

Martin, A., & Peperkamp, S. (2017). Assessing the distinctiveness of phonological features in word recognition: prelexical and lexical influences. Journal of Phonetics, 62, 1–11.

Phonological features have been shown to differ from one another in their perceptual weight during word recognition. Here, we examine two possible sources of these asymmetries: bottom-up acoustic perception (some featural contrasts are acoustically more different than others), and top-down lexical knowledge (some contrasts are used more to distinguish words in the lexicon). We focus on French nouns, in which voicing mispronunciations are perceived as closer to canonical pronunciations than both place and manner mispronunciations, indicating that voicing is less important than place and manner for distinguishing words from one another. We find that this result can be accounted for by coalescing the two sources of bias. First, using a prelexical discrimination paradigm, we show that manner contrasts have the highest baseline perceptual salience, while there is no difference between place and voicing. Second, using a novel method to compute the functional load of phonological features, we show that the place feature is most often recruited to distinguish nouns in the French lexicon, while voicing and manner are exploited equally often.

Martin, A., & Peperkamp, S. (2015). Asymmetries in the exploitation of phonetic features for word recognition. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 137(4), EL303–EL317.

French listeners’ reliance on voicing, manner, and place was tested in a mispronunciation detection task. Mispronounced words were more likely to be recognized when the mispronunciation concerned voicing rather than manner or place. This indicates that listeners rely less on the former than on the latter for the purposes of word recognition. Further, the role of visual cues to phonetic features was explored by the task being conducted in both an audio-only and an audiovisual version, but no effect of modality was found. Discussion focuses on cross-linguistic comparisons and lexical factors that might influence the weight of individual features.

Fort, M., Martin, A., & Peperkamp, S. (2015). Consonants are more important than vowels in the bouba-kiki effect. Language and Speech, 58(2), 247–266.

Adult listeners systematically associate certain speech sounds with round or spiky shapes, a sound-symbolic phenomenon known as the "bouba-kiki effect". In this study, we investigate the respective influences of consonants and vowels in this phenomenon. French participants were asked to match auditorily presented pseudowords with one of two visually presented shapes, one round and one spiky. The pseudowords were created by crossing either two consonant pairs with a wide range of vowels (Experiment 1 and 2) or two vowel pairs with a wide range of consonants (Experiment 3). Analyses showed that consonants have a greater influence than vowels in the bouba-kiki effect. This asymmetry cannot be due to an onset bias, as a strong consonantal influence is found both with CVCV (Experiment 1) and VCV (Experiment 2) stimuli. We discuss these results in terms of the differential role of consonants and vowels in speech perception.

Conference proceedings

White, J., Kager., R., Linzen, T., Markopoulos, G., Martin, A., Nevins, A., Peperkamp, S., Polgárdi, K., Topintzi, N. & van de Vijver, R. (in press). Preference for locality is affected by the prefix/suffix asymmetry: Evidence from artificial language learning. Proceedings of NELS 48.

Fort, M., Weiss, A., Martin, A., & Peperkamp, S. (2013). Looking for the bouba-kiki effect in prelexical infants. In: S. Ouni, F. Berthommier & A. Jesse (eds.) Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Auditory-Visual Speech Processing. INRIA, 71–76.

Adults and toddlers systematically associate certain pseudowords, such as ‘bouba’ and ‘kiki’, with round and spiky shapes, respectively. The ontological origin of this so-called bouba-kiki effect is unknown: it could be an unlearned aspect of perception, appear with language exposure, or only emerge with the ability to produce speech sounds (i.e., babbling). We report the results of three experiments with five- and six-month-olds that found no bouba-kiki effect at all. We discuss the consequences of these findings for the emergence of cross-modal associations in infant speech perception.

You can find more information on my publications at Google scholar.