'He helped develop a technique that shows how tongues move during speech'

May 26, 2006

Bill Hardcastle has won an award for his work to help children and adults with speech disorders.

Thirty years ago, Bill Hardcastle had three choices when moving from his native Australia to take a PhD in phonetics: Edinburgh, London or Hawaii. He turned his back on the sun for Edinburgh University. The work he began in experimental phonetics led to pioneering speech technology research, which was recognised by a prestigious award this week.

The director of the Speech Science Research Centre at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh has won the 2006 Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran Award from the Foundation of Science and Technology for work in helping people with speech disorders. The award marks a positive contribution to society through the application of science or technology: previous winners include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the world wide web, and Ian Wilmut, head of the team that cloned the sheep Dolly.

A century ago, researchers wanting to discover how the tongue moved during speech coated the roof of the mouth with charcoal and chocolate, then checked how the tongue had moved during a particular sound.

Professor Hardcastle, who worked in Germany and at Reading University before coming to Queen Margaret, helped to develop electropalatography, a technique that allows speech therapists and clients to see tongue movement.

Both wear an artificial palate covered with electrodes linked to a computer that shows where the tongue is in contact with the roof of the mouth.

Professor Hardcastle is particularly concerned with the assessment and rehabilitation of children and adults with disorders such as cleft palate, aphasia and Down's syndrome.

Seeing tongue-contact patterns can be key to an accurate diagnosis, he said. "Children can make a change in sounds that you can't hear but are going in the right direction, for example in distinguishing between 't' and 'k'. That's a different diagnosis from the case of children making identical sounds."

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