Stephen Tobin

Photo of Stephen Tobin


About Me

I'm a research fellow in the Linguistics Department at University of Michigan, conducting research in collaboration with Pam Beddor, Andries Coetzee, and Jelena Krivokapić. I moved to UMich from Universität Potsdam, where I collaborated with Adamantios Gafos. I'm originally from the UK, but I began studying internationally at the Universidad Complutense on my year abroad in Madrid while I was an undergraduate at Girton College, Cambridge, reading Modern Languages and Linguistics. I completed my MA in Linguistics with Dani Byrd in the Linguistics Department at the University of Southern California, before transferring to UConn to complete my PhD under the supervision of Carol Fowler, with collaboration from Jim Magnuson.

Research Interests

While I have broad interests in the fields of Language and Cognition, my research is centred on Phonetics. I study speech production, speech perception and the relation between these two processes.

Active Research Projects

Dynamical Systems Theory

Complex dynamical systems provide a means for understanding and characterizing of coordination across a vast and varied array of disciplines. These systems change over time, consist of many coupled elements and yield higher-level patterns that would not be expected on the basis of their individual elements. This approach has been applied to explain patterns of general motor control (Turvey, 1990), as well as in the context of speech articulation (Browman & Goldstein, 1988), perception (Tuller, Jantzen & Virsa, 2008) and phonological structure (Gafos & Benus, 2006). I am interested in using dynamical concepts and explicit models of dynamical systems to predict patterns of change in language, in particular, patterns of phonetic accommodation among the phones of interlocutors of a single language (Nielsen, 2011; Pardo, 2006) and among the phones of multilinguals' languages (Sancier & Fowler, 1997; Bullock & Toribio, 2009), also referred to as phonetic drift.

Phonetic Accommodation in Bilinguals

In one line of research in which I am currently engaged, I ask how bilinguals' varying exposure to, and use of, each of their languages affects their phonetic categories. Interestingly, a speaker-hearer's use of one language can influence phonetic categories in their other language (Sancier & Fowler, 1997). However, it appears that this is not always the case (Tobin, Nam & Fowler, under review), as a variety of other linguistic and social factors influence the extent of accommodation (Giles, Coupland & Coupland, 1991). So far we have recruited Spanish-English and Korean-English bilinguals, and we are considering further language pairings.

Coarticulation Resistance

The coarticulation resistance (CR) of a speech segment refers to the extent to which it inhibits coarticulation between the surrounding segments. Segments that require fine motor control or are realized with the tongue blade or tip, such as [ɹ], [s] and [z], are typically high in CR. Segments that only require gross motor control or are realized with the lips, such as [b] or [v], are typically low in CR. In an eyetracking study, we have shown that listeners are able to distinguish information-rich from information-poor patterns of coarticulation. They systematically look at orthographic words that are consistent with anticipatory coarticulation in a spoken sentence more quickly in the context of a consonant that is low in CR than in the context of a consonant that is high in CR (Tobin, Cho, Jennett & Magnuson, 2010).


Peer-reviewed Publications

Tobin, S. J. (in preparation). Cumulative and trial-by-trial accommodation in Spanish-English and Korean-English bilinguals.

Tobin, S., Hullebus, M., & Gafos, A. (in preparation). Nonlinear effects of phonetic convergence in a cue-distractor paradigm.

Sorensen, T., Tobin, S. J., Sotiropoulou, S. & Gafos, A. (in preparation). Orolaryngeal movement coordination in CV sequences and spectral variability as a function of onset voicing.

Tobin, S. J., Cho, P. W., Jennett, P. & Magnuson, J. (in preparation). Effects of Coarticulation Resistance on Lexical Access.

Tobin. S., Hullebus, M., & Gafos, A. (2018). Immediate convergence in a cue-distractor paradigm. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 144, EL528.

Tobin, S. J., Nam, H., & Fowler, C. A. (2017). Phonetic drift in Spanish-English bilinguals: Experiment and a self-organizing model. Journal of Phonetics, 65, 45-59.

Kuberski, S., Tobin, S. J., & Gafos, A. I. (2016). A landmark-based approach to automatic voice onset time estimation in stop-vowel sequences. IEEE GlobalSIP Symposium on Speech Processing, 60-65.

Tobin, S., (2015). A dynamic approach to phonetic change. In Proceedings of the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (M. Wolters, J. Livingstone, B. Beattie, R. Smith, M. MacMahon, J. Stuart-Smith & J. Scobbie, Eds.). London: IPA.

Tobin, S. J., (2013). Phonetic accommodation in Spanish-English and Korean-English bilinguals. Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics, 19.

Preston, J., Ramsdell, H., Oller, D., Edwards, M., Tobin, S. (2011). Developing a Weighted Measure of Speech Sound Accuracy. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research, 54, 1-18.

Tobin, S. J., Cho, P. W., Jennett, P. & Magnuson, J. (2010). Effects of Anticipatory Coarticulation on Lexical Access. Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, 2200-2205.

Anastas, J., Gindin, L., Kelty, E., Rimzhim, A., Zhao, J., Andrade, B., Finkel, D., Palatinus, K., Schmidtke, J., Tobin, S. J., & Naigles, L. (2010). Book Review: Edith L. Bavin (ed.), The Cambridge handbook of child language. Journal of Child Language, 37, 1133-1145.

Byrd, D., Tobin, S. J., Bresch, E., & Narayanan, S. (2009). Timing effects of syllable structure and stress on nasals: A real-time MRI examination. Journal of Phonetics, 37, 97-110.

Peer-reviewed Presentation Abstracts

Hullebus, M., Tobin, S., & Gafos, A. (2018). Speaker-specific structure in German voiceless stop voice onset times. Paper presented at Interspeech 2018, Hyderabad, India.

Tobin, S., & Gafos, A. (2018). Automatic vs. RT-modulated Phonetic Convergence over Timescales and Contexts. Paper presented at SSLP 2018, Leibniz-ZAS, Berlin, Germany.

Tobin, S., & Gafos, A. (2018). Convergence in VOT in a Cue-Distractor Paradigm. Poster presented at LabPhon 16, Lisbon, Portugal.

Tobin, S., Hullebus, M., & Gafos, A. (2018). Phonetic Convergence in VOT in a Cue-Distractor Paradigm. Paper presented at HISPhonCog 2018, Seoul, South Korea.

Tobin, S., & Gafos, A. (2018). Time Course of Phonetic Convergence in Spanish-English and Korean-English Bilinguals. Paper presented at CRiPaP 2018, Riga, Latvia.

Gibson, M., Sotiropoulou, S., Tobin, S., & Gafos. A. (2017). On some temporal properties of Spanish consonant-liquid and consonant-rhotic clusters. In Malte Belz, Susanne Fuchs, Stefanie Jannedy, Christine Mooshammer, Oksana Rasskazova, Marzena Zygis (Eds.), Proceedings of the 13th Tagung Phonetik und Phonologie im deutschsprachigen Raum (PP13), pp. 73-76.

Tobin, S. J. (2017). Perceptual Category Adaptation: An Index of Cross-Language Coupling. Poster presented at Phonetics and Phonology in Europe 2017, Cologne, Germany.

Gibson, M., Sotiropoulou, S., Tobin, S. J. & Gafos, A. I. (2017). Articulatory overlap in a subset of stop+lateral clusters in Spanish. Poster presented at Phonetics and Phonology in Europe 2017, Cologne, Germany.

Sotiropoulou, S., Sorensen, S., Tobin, S. J. & Gafos, A. I. (2016). Vowel movement as a function of voicing in simple CV sequences. Poster presented at LabPhon15: Speech Dynamics and Phonological Representation. Cornell, New York.

Tobin, S. & Nam, H. (2010). Asymmetries in Spanish-English Gestural Drift: Data and Model. Poster presented at 12th Conference on Laboratory Phonology, Albuquerque, NM, July 2010.

Tobin, S. (2009). Gestural Drift in Spanish-English Speakers. ASA, Portland, OR, May 2009. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 125(4,2): 2757.

Tobin, S., Byrd, D., Bresch, E., & Narayanan, S. (2006) Syllable structure effects on velum-oral coordination evaluated with real-time MRI. ASA, Providence, RI, June 2006. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 119(5,2): 3302.

Narayanan, S., Bresch, E., Tobin, S., Byrd, D., Nayak, K., & Nielsen, J. (2006) Resonance tuning in soprano singing and vocal tract shaping: Comparison of sung and spoken vowels. ASA, Providence, RI, June 2006. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 119(5,2): 3305.

Teaching Philosophy

For students to successfully learn, the classroom atmosphere must be such that all students feel free to share their thoughts and ideas, irrespective of their background. In my own experience, I performed best in the classrooms where my opinions were valued. While feedback from the teacher is important, respect amongst students is equally important.  As a teacher, I see it as my responsibility to establish and promote an atmosphere of respect in the classroom. In the first few classes its is very important to allow time to get to know one’s students and to let them get to know each other, and every class should be an event that students look forward to and enjoy. Making the effort to develop this environment pays off for the teacher as much as for the students – what better class to teach than a class of enthused students, enjoying the material?

As a teacher, I see my role as a facilitator or enabler. I cannot learn for the students but I can endeavor to enthuse and encourage them to learn actively themselves. While traditional lecture-style teaching has its place, e.g. for auditory learners, students take more from the classroom when they are actively engaged in learning.  Activities that require students to get up, move around, talk to each other and participate in experiments are the bread and butter of my classes. The activities they participate in are the activities of experimental psychologists.

To acquire the skill set of a good experimental psychologist, students must be able to come up with research questions that interest them and are of interest to their peers and they must be able to frame those questions scientifically. Allowing students an element of choice in the topics they choose for their assignments gives them the freedom to develop their own interests.  In the initial stages of the assignment I encourage students to write down ideas that interest them and summarize papers that catch their eye.  This is not graded, rather it gives students the opportunity to think things out, reflect on their ideas, and demonstrate their knowledge. Having them give peer- and teacher-graded presentations of drafts of their assignments first in small groups and later to the whole class allows them to ascertain the level of interest among their classroom community.

Technical skills, such as statistical testing, are an important part of scientific literacy. Specific skills like these merit some time. Students must be able to describe the statistical concepts involved and must be able to run the appropriate analyses. I use frequent graded and ungraded quizzes and interactive activities to ensure that students can explain these concepts and divide the learning up into demonstrations, ungraded in-class assignments and graded take-home assignments. In class students can follow the logic of the analysis as I demonstrate and clear up any technical problems they may have with their peers or with me. This is particularly important for students not familiar with the software being used or with IT in general. The take-home assignment ensures that each student is able to analyze data independently. This is the skill they will ultimately take away from the class.

I believe technology has a place in the classroom but that it should be used with specific objectives. Apple Keynote is a great way to present data visualizations and movies demonstrating ideas and concepts, but excessive use of technology may divert students’ attention away from the topic of the class.

I want students to leave my class not simply knowing the material, but being able to explain what they know to others, apply what they know, write coherently and vibrantly about what they know and enjoy what they know.

Advisors, Collaborators, Mentors and Supervisors (past and present)