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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
Silhouette of person walking into the sunset - text reads Cambridge Language Sciences Annual Symposium 2023

The Cambridge Language Sciences (CLS) Annual Symposium is an annual meeting of minds, bringing together language scientists of all disciplines from the University of Cambridge for an afternoon of talks, poster presentations and informal networking.

This year's Symposium on the theme of 'Language and Mental Wellbeing' took place in person on Thursday 16 November. 

The posters and presentations are now available to view on Cambridge Open Engage


13.00-13.30 Registration & coffee

13.30-15.15 Research Dialogue 1: The relationship between language and more general cognition, and implications for wellbeing

Session Chair: Matt Davis (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit / Language Sciences Co-Director)

Language in its own right: boundaries with thought and communication 

Ianthi Tsimpli (Professor of English & Applied Linguistics, Cambridge) 

By general consensus, language is the optimal communication system humans possess. Deconstructing communication into its component parts, however, is a challenge - particularly when looking for causal links between formal language and domain-general cognition. Children growing up with language and communication difficulties present asymmetries in their cognitive profiles along with considerable heterogeneity. Enhanced language experience, in the form of bilingualism or parent education levels, has direct or indirect effects on cognitive skills but it’s unclear which aspects of the component parts of communication drive the differences. Focusing on longitudinal data  from autistic children, I will explore the question of causality linking properties of language, (non-linguistic) cognition and communication.

Language and thought: residual thought in global aphasia

Rosemary Varley (Professor of Acquired Language Disorders, University College London)

The human species is marked out by possession of sophisticated cognition and a similarly elaborate culture, characterised by achievements such as science, religion, the arts, as well as complex social relationships. Humans also appear unique in the possession of language, raising questions as to whether language is necessary in the creation and maintenance of a distinctively human mind. This issue has been addressed by researchers across disciplines and across cognitive domains, such as social reasoning, mathematics, categorisation and event perception.

In a series of studies, we have explored claims of language mediation in various forms of thinking by recruiting people with severe (global) aphasia and dense impairment of language processing across modalities. These investigations reveal residual capacities in, for example, theory of mind reasoning and calculation, in some people with global aphasia. Given evidence of residual cognitive capacity and retention of high-order abilities even in people with very severe language impairment, this spurs the development of better therapies for neurodisability. In a final segment of the talk, I will discuss how new technologies will drive innovation and enhancement in neurotherapeutics. 

Speaker profile: Rosemary Varley

15.15-15.45 Poster slam

Poster presenters have one minute and one slide to tell the audience about their poster.  

15.45-16.30 Poster exhibition & refreshments

See below for list of posters. Posters can be on any topic within language sciences, and interdisciplinary research is especially welcome. 

Presentations and posters will also be available after the event on Cambridge Open Engage, the Cambridge University Press and Assessment early research platform. 

We are very grateful to the poster session organisers: Yuyan Xue and Chara Triantafyllidou.

16.30-18.15 Research Dialogue 2: Speech, language and multi-modal technologies in healthcare settings, including human-robot interactions

Session Chair: Kate Knill (Engineering / ALTA Institute)

Conversations with robots and AIs - Can foundation models support human wellbeing?

Oliver Lemon (Academic Co-Lead of the National Robotarium, Edinburgh Centre for Robotics; Director of the Interaction Lab, Heriot-Watt University; Co-Founder, Alana AI)

Generative AI systems such as Large Language Models (LLMs) have the potential to revolutionise the way we support human wellbeing and mental health. However, these systems currently suffer from important deficiencies in terms of accuracy and bias, which limit their trustworthiness and usefulness in real-world tasks, especially in safety-critical domains such as healthcare.

Drawing on examples from several research projects at the National Robotarium and Alana AI, including SPRING (social robots for elder care), RES-Q+ (spoken dialogue to support stroke patients), and RNIB (assistive visual dialogue for partially-sighted people), I will discuss lessons learned and research directions in developing future generative AI systems to support human wellbeing.

Speaker profile: Oliver Lemon

Taking affective robots into the real world: challenges and opportunities

Micol Spitale (Assistant Professor at the Politecnico di Milano and visiting affiliated researcher at the University of Cambridge)

Affective robots, capable of recognizing, interpreting, processing, and simulating human emotions, have gained significant attention for their potential in various social contexts. This includes promoting mental well-being, aiding in learning, and supporting the rehabilitation of children with special needs. However, despite the need to evaluate and deploy these robots in real-world settings such as schools or hospitals, most of the current research has been confined to in-the-lab studies. As such, one of the primary challenges in the field of affective robotics is to successfully bring these robots into real-world scenarios, thereby overcoming the limitation of applicability and generalization of results obtained in the lab.

This presentation will address the current challenges identified in literature for the deployment of affective robots in real-world scenarios. By sharing insights from various case studies, ranging from the use of robots in the treatment of language disorders in children to utilising robotic coaches for promoting mental well-being, this talk will shed light on the obstacles faced in bringing affective robots out of the lab and into practical applications. Additionally, potential solutions and future directions for advancing the field will also be discussed. 

Speaker profile: Micol Spitale

18.15-19.30 Drinks reception

We gratefully acknowledge the support of Cambridge University Press & Assessment in making this event possible.


The following posters will be presented at the Symposium. Posters will also be available to view on Cambridge Open Engage

  • Calbert Graham, Nathan Roll: 'Evaluating OpenAI's Whisper ASR: Performance Analysis Across Diverse Accents and Speaker Traits' (Language Sciences Incubator Fund project)
  • Madeleine Rees, Abbie Bradshaw, Brechtje Post, Matt Davis: 'Language dominance is associated with greater speech motor adaptation in unbalanced bilinguals'
  • Jacqueline Phelps: 'Flexible functional adaptation of selective attention in bilingualism'
  • Chloe Patman, Kirsty McDougall, Paul Foulkes: 'Exploring the effects of face coverings on speech perception: insights from an audio-visual and exposure experiment'
  • Stephen Theron-Grimaldi, Mirjana Bozic: 'Language usage as a modulator of bilingual selective attention'
  • Julia Schwarz, Mikel Lizarazu, Marie Lallier, Anastasia Klimovich-Gray: 'Phonological encoding and lexical processing of spoken words in dyslexia: linking behavioural and neural responses'
  • Songqi Li: 'Bilingual Cross-language Activation and Lexical Control in Production'
  • Junya Fukuta, Takayuki Kimura, John Matthews, John Williams, Boping Yuan, Yuyan Xue, Shigenori Wakabayashi: 'Do innate principles of grammar guide learners in acquiring asymmetrical extraction from adjuncts and arguments in semi-artificial languages?'
  • Jingkang Wang, Andrea Olguin, Mirjana Bozic: 'Typological Similarity between Languages Modulates the Neural Mechanisms of Selective Attention in Bilinguals'
  • Yutong Wang, Mitko Sabev: 'Rime changes and mergers in Beijing retroflex suffixation: an acoustic study'
  • Yoana Dancheva: 'Prosodic patterns of code-switched speech'
  • Linda Bakkouche, Brechtje Post: 'Perceptual and Cognitive Individual Differences in L2 Speech Learning: Evidence from Perception Experiments'
  • Marieke Meelen, Alexander O'Neill, Rolando Coto-Solano: 'Language Preservation through ASR: Newar and Dzardzongke Case Studies'
  • Jiaao Yu, Mirjana Bozic: 'Investigating the Role of Pseudocode in Learning Programming Language: A Language Transfer and Typological Similarity Perspective'
  • Jacqueline von Seth, Máté Aller, Matt Davis: '(How well) do you see what she’s saying? Interindividual variability and correlates of the audiovisual speech benefit'
  • Guangzhi Sun: 'Speech-based Slot Filling using Large Language Models'
  • María J Arche, Mai Fleetwood-Bird, Alexandra Perovic, Josep Quer, Jeannette Schaeffer: 'Language difficulties in the youth criminal justice process'
  • Chenmin Gao: 'A substance-free approach to harmony and underspecification'
  • Shanshan Hu: 'The Acquisition of Chinese Perfective Motion Events'
  • Charles McGhee: 'Towards Acoustic-to-Articulatory Inversion for Pronunciation Feedback'
  • Oliver Mayeux: 'Lexical similarity in contact-induced change'
Thursday, 16 November, 2023 - 13:00 to 19:30
Event location: 
Cripp's Court, Magdelene College, Cambridge

What we do

Cambridge Language Sciences is an Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. Our virtual network connects researchers from five schools across the university as well as other world-leading research institutions. Our aim is to strengthen research collaborations and knowledge transfer across disciplines in order to address large-scale multi-disciplinary research challenges relating to language research.