Predicting the form of words: Investigating the precision of people’s linguistic predictions using Welsh mutations.

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    Cardiff University
    United Kingdom
    Social sciences


People show a remarkable ability to anticipate what others will say, or how a sentence they are reading will continue (see Pickering & Gambi, 2018, for a recent review). This remarkable ability develops early during childhood and is present to some extent in second language learners as well, but it is most sophisticated in adult native speakers. Several lines of evidence suggest that adult native speakers can generate very precise predictions about the sounds they are about to hear next. At the same time, however, a growing number of recent studies has failed to find evidence that even adult native speakers routinely predict the form of words (i.e., their constituent sounds or letters) that they expect to encounter. One possibility is that this reflects the fact that generating these predictions is costly in terms of cognitive resources. But there are also limitations to the evidence that has been collected so far, which has mainly come from languages (mainly English) where the form of upcoming words is only weakly dependent on the preceding linguistic context. In contrast, Welsh mutation rules make the initial sound/letter of upcoming words conditional on the preceding words and grammatical context. Therefore, Welsh represents an ideal test case for studying the precision of linguistic predictions. This project will thus investigate predictions of form (sounds and letters) in Welsh, using eye-tracking and EEG to test whether and how people make these predictions while understanding sentences. Depending on the candidate’s interests, there will be scope to extend the investigation to children acquiring Welsh and/or to second language learners of Welsh.

The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr. Chiara Gambi (Lead) and Dr. Lewis Bott at Cardiff University School of Psychology. Dr. Jonathan Morris (Cardiff University School of Welsh) will provide expertise in Welsh phonology and second language acquisition. While the student will be based at Cardiff University School of Psychology, they will be expected to spend some time in Dr. Manon Jones ‘ lab at Bangor University for the purpose of data collection and to receive advanced training in EEG.

What is funded

The studentship will commence in October 2020 and will cover your tuition fees (at UK/EU level) as well as a maintenance grant. In 2019-2020 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £15,009 per annum. As well as tuition fees and a maintenance grant, all School of Psychology students receive conference and participant money (approx. £2250 for the duration of the studentship).They also receive a computer, office space and access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.

This studentship is open to Home, EU or international students.

The award offered will cover Home/EU fees and maintenance stipend.

International candidates are welcomed but must be able to self-fund the difference between Home/EU and International fees


As only one studentship is available and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicant is likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.

Native or native-like command of Welsh is highly desirable for this project, as testing prediction of word form in Welsh requires generating carefully controlled language materials to present to participants during experiments. Candidates who do not meet this requirement are welcome to apply, but they should be aware that they are unlikely to succeed unless they have a very strong profile otherwise.

How to Apply

You can apply online - consideration is automatic on applying for a PhD in Psychology, with an October 2020 start date (programme code RFPDPSYA). Please use our online application service and specify in the funding section that you wish to be considered for School funding. Please specify that you are applying for this particular project and the supervisor.


The responsibility for the funding offers published on this website, including the funding description, lies entirely with the publishing institutions. The application is handled uniquely by the employer, who is also fully responsible for the recruitment and selection processes.