ESR5: Communicative alignment at the physiological level

PhD Fellow: Tomaz Offrede

I am currently working on the ESR5, Communicative Alignment at the Physiological Level. This means that one of the central topics of my research is phonetic convergence, which, broadly speaking, is the tendency that we have to speak more and more like the person we are having a conversation with. I also focus on some of the bodily processes that happen during conversations, like breathing.

It has been a long way to get here. In my bachelor, I studied psychology for a few years (with behavior analysis and cognitive psychology among my favorite areas) before deciding that I wanted to orient my studies towards language. I got my bachelor degree in English studies, which included linguistics, literature, and teaching of English as a second language. In my master’s, then, I decided to join those two broad areas that I was in love with: I ventured into the field of psycholinguistics that is, I studied cognitive processes underlying language use. Specifically, I focused my energy on the study of bilingualism. And my trajectory is, of course, far from over!


Theoretical models of interactive alignment in dialogue have mostly focused on different levels of linguistic representations. ESR5’s project will consider alignment from the physiological level, in particular joint motion, alignment in respiration and articulation, since language and communication are grounded on sensorimotor processes. Physiological data will be recorded from speakers engaged in different communicative settings (with and without a joint motor task) using the newest technology in this area (e.g., motion-capture system, dual electromagnetic articulography, dual inductance plethysmography, dual wireless EEG). Moreover, speakers’ alignment at the physiological level will be tested with respect to body similarity (sex differences, i.e. female-male dyads for dissimilarity and female-female dyads for similarity) on the one hand, and social aspects (self-rated gender identity) on the other hand. It is hypothesized that joint motor action has a positive effect on alignment at the respiratory and phonetic level, since respiration could play a mediating role between motion and speech. EEG recordings will be used to investigate the neural underpinnings of respiratory control and alignment in joint action settings. If communicative alignment is shown to take place at the physiological level, and if specific neuro-behavioral biomarkers of successful alignment can be identified, this will have an impact on theoretical models as well as therapeutic interventions for patients with interactive deficits.

Expected results:

  • Enhancing our understanding on factors facilitating communication;
  • Extending our knowledge of representational levels of alignment to the kinematics of speaking, gesturing and breathing;
  • Discussing the role of biology (sex) vs social aspects (gender identity) on alignment.

Based in Berlin, Germany

Full-time three-year contract, starting September 2020

PhD enrolment at: Humboldt University and Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin

Main supervisor’s institution: Humboldt University and Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin

Main supervisor: Prof Christine Mooshammer and Prof Susanne Fuchs


IIT, Ferrara: training and support in EEG data acquisition and analyses to investigate neurophysiological indexes of alignment to the kinematics of speaking and breathing (8 months).

Co-supervisors’ institutions:

Italian Institute of Technology, Ferrara, Italy

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