PhD research assistantship

The Department of Linguistics at the University of Alberta is inviting applications for a PhD student research assistantship position, beginning September 2009, on exemplar-based approaches to phonology.

A fundamental question of linguistic theory is how spoken language is encoded in the mental lexicon. The standard view, that phonological patterns are learned over symbolic representations, has increasingly come into question, as failing to provide a natural account of frequency effects and gradient sound change. An alternative view is that words and phrases are stored as clusters of exemplars, including detailed, individuated memories of the speech signal. Speech processing, under this view, involves massive comparison of exemplars, with phonological patterns (as well as low-level patterns of gradient phonetic variation) emerging as abstractions over the raw data. 

A cutting-edge area of inquiry, then, is the development of explicit computational models which perform this sort of comparison on real, variable-length speech signals. Students will be expected to participate  actively in the conceptualization, implementation, and testing of such models. Further details of this project, part of an international collaboration with computer scientists at University of Sheffield (Speech and Hearing), can be found at

This assistantship is designed to provide talented PhD student applicants with stable funding for the duration of their studies and to facilitate their involvement as junior colleagues in the academic life of the Department. Students will have the opportunity to present the results of individual research at conferences and, where appropriate, will be encouraged to publish their results in professional venues. 

The assistantship will be at the rate of $15,000 per 8 month academic term (September – April). [There may also be opportunities for other summer employment through other Linguistics research projects or through Linguistics summer session teaching.] 

Preference will be given to applicants with a strong background in phonology and phonetics, preferably at the graduate level, with good programming skills, including some familiarity with (or willingness to learn) Matlab/Octave. 

The initial application should include: a) a letter that summarizes past experience and outlines the candidate’s research interests and proposed area of study, b) an academic writing sample (a recent paper, thesis chapter, or article), and c) the names and email addresses of three referees. These  materials may be sent electronically or by surface mail. 

Taking up this position is normally contingent upon admission to the PhD Programme in Linguistics; applicants are encouraged to meet Departmental deadlines for applications, as outlined on the UofA Linguistics Website at

Initial applications for the assistantship should be sent to Robert Kirchner at the application address listed below. Email inquiries are welcome.

Dr. Robert Kirchner 
Department of Linguistics 
University of Alberta 
Edmonton, AB, T6G 2E7 

Phone: 780 492-3480 
Fax: 780 492-3480

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