Eva Dittinger

 IMG_20151209_194051 Doctoral student, email: eva.DITTINGER(at)univ-amu.fr
From Auditory Perception to Memory: Musicianship as a Window into Foreign Language Learning
Knowing several languages is becoming a necessity in our globalized world and thus, the understanding of neuronal networks underlying novel word learning gains importance. The aim of my PhD project is two-fold: first, I will try to better understand the contribution of perceptive and cognitive processes during novel meaning acquisition. And second, I will take advantage of professional musicians to build a bridge between the music and the language domain, and to specify whether positive effects of musicianship extend to the semantic level of language processing. At first, the idea that music training could influence semantic aspects of speech may seem surprising. However, there is growing evidence in the literature showing that music training promotes structural and functional brain plasticity that can benefit other domains, and music and speech have been shown to share, at least in part, common neuronal substrates. Furthermore, both playing an instrument at a professional level as well as novel word learning are multi-dimensional tasks requiring acute auditory perception and focused attention, code switching between visual and auditory information, as well as the ability to maintain this information in working-, short-term-, episodic- and semantic memory. Therefore, in my thesis I will first conduct a cross-sectional study comparing musicians and non-musicians to determine whether increased auditory perception and cognition in musicians lead to increased phonological categorization, faster building-up of initial word representations, as well as longer-lasting memory traces of word meanings. Furthermore, I will reveal neuronal networks engaged during word learning. In a second step, I will test for the causality of the effects found in the cross-sectional study by conducting a longitudinal study. If successful, this project will have societal and educational impacts in designing novel strategies for improving word learning, and in pinpointing the specific word learning processing stages that may be deficient in adults or children with learning disorders.