Did you find this page because you read a story about my work on gender and /s/ in children's speech?  If so, click here for a little additional information about that story and that project.

Picture of me

On a rooftop in West Hollywood.  Sadly, I do take myself that seriously

Benjamin Munson


Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences
at the

University of Minnesota
which is located at
115 Shevlin Hall
164 Pillsbury Drive, SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455 USA
Vox: +1 612 624 3322
Fax: +1 612 624 7586

Welcome to my Web page.  This page was updated on November 8, 2015, after a woefully long time.  No longer will this be an out-of-date list of publications and presentations.  This is instead going to be a brief introduction to me and to my work, and a hub to my presence on the Web. 

First off, here's my CV.  It has an up-to-date list of publications and presentations.  If you see anything on this that you'd like to read more about, send me an E-Mail.

Next, here I am on Twitter.  Be forewarned: on Twitter I am who I am.  Sometimes it's professional, sometimes it's not.  Yes, I'm on Facebook.  Friend-request me at your own risk, and don't be offended if I don't accept it.  It gets a little raw.  

Next off, here I am on Researchgate.  This has a fair number of my publications on it.  I work hard to keep it up to date with current publications and conference presentations, so check there if you've heard about a talk I gave I did and want to read the slides.

Continuing on, here I am on Academia.edu.  I don't do as good a job keeping this one up as I do with Researchgate.

Here's my Google Scholar page. 


My research has two broad themes. The first of these is phonological development and disorders. My research tries to address a variety of questions. How do children acquire the sound structure of their native language? What do children and adults know about the sound structure of their language? What are the limits of individual differences in this knowledge? What cognitive, linguistic, social, perceptual, and motor skills support speech-sound learning? What causes some children to have severe difficulties acquiring the sound structure of their native language in the absence of any clear predisposing factors? What are the social and educational consequences of variation in and disorders of knowledge of the sound structure of language?

My early work on this topic examined relationships between word learning and speech-sound knowledge (Munson, 2001 JSLHR, Edwards et al., 2004, Munson, Edwards, & Beckman, 2005; Munson, Swenson, & Manthei, 2005; Munson, Kurtz, & Windsor, 2005). This was followed by a set of studies using psycholinguistic methods to examine further the levels of impairment implicated in childhood speech-sound disorder. These are summarized in Munson, Baylis, Krause, and Yim (2010), and in various presentations in 2006. One important lasting lesson from that project is that there is a supremely complex relationship between speech-production abilities and response times in naming task. The ultimate publication of the results of the experiments from that project (indeed, the most lasting contribution from that project) is dependent on my learning and adapting complex statistical models to tease apart the roles of speech-production accuracy and higher-level linguistic formulation on responses times in naming tasks. This endeavor is ongoing, and has been spurred by the recent gain in popularity in the field of linguistics of linear mixed-effects models with crossed random effects for subjects and items. Stay tuned for more work on that. This work is also the foundation for a series of planned large-scale projects on phonological disorder.

In my next set of research projects I rejoined my long-time friends and collaborators in a project that they began in the early 2000s.  This was the paidologosproject [link], which focused on detailed studies how children learn the relationship between speech articulation its acoustic consequences.  This work was funded both by an NIH R01 grant to Jan Edwards and Mary Beckman, and by a grant from the Human and Social Dynamics initiative of the National Science Foundation that had four principal investigators: Mary Beckman, Jan Edwards, Eric Fosler-Lussier (Dept. of Computer Science, Ohio State University), and me.  My part in that project was to conduct cross-linguistic studies of adults' perception of children's productions, taken from the database of cross-linguistic phonological acquisition that Beckman and Edwards developed in their own research.  One major finding from that study is that adult speakers' interpretations of children's emerging productions are highly language specific. Li et al. (2011, JASA) found that Japanese- and English-speaking adults interpret children's sibilant fricative productions differently: English adults interpret ambiguous productions as /s/, while Japanese adults interpret them as a post-alveolar fricative.  This finding explains in part the well-established cross-language asymmetries in the order of acquisition of /s/ and its post-alveolar counterpart.  Work in progress (in collaboration with Edwards and Tim Arbisi-Kelm) shows a similar asymmetry for the perception of alveolar and velar stops by English- and Greek-speaking adults.  Again, this explains another cross-language order-of-acquisition asymmetry.  Another major finding from this study was adults are able to perceive fine phonetic detail in children's speech extremely accurately when given a response modality that allows for a continuous response, such as visual analog scaling.  This is true for a variety of contrasts, and is stable across differences in task difficulty (Munson et al. 2012 AJSLP, Julien & Munson, 2012 JSLHR, Urberg-Carlson, Kaiser, & Munson, 2008; Urberg-Carlson, Munson, & Kaiser, 2009; Kaiser, Munson, et al., 2009).  This finding has practical importance, in that it shows that people can conduct relatively fine-grained assessments of children's speech without necessarily using complex instrumentation.  It also has theoretical importance, in that it shows that we should use gradient feedback in the computational learning models that we are developing in the broader grant project. 

These days, Jan, Mary, and I are busy with the learning to talk project.  In "L2T" we are conducting a longitudinal study of children's lexical and phonological development.  Please click on the link above to learn more about this project.  

My second area is sociophonetics. Variability is the hallmark of speech and language as it exists in the real world. This variability occurs at every level of linguistic structure, from the resonant frequencies in the nucleus of a vowel, to the form of the copula, to the choice of particular words in discourse. Most of this variability is not random, but reflects attributes about speakers and the messages they intend to convey. Part of the task of learning language is learning the states, attributes, and functions that different linguistic forms index. This knowledge serves two functions. First, it allows children to interpret and convey an additional set of messages in the speech signal. Second, it potentially helps the child 'normalize' variable forms when learning and processing regular semantic meaning.

This is a critical, and sadly all-too-often ignored, facet of language acquisition. Our work in this area ultimately hopes to build models of the interplay between indexical learning and 'regular' language learning (i.e., learning sounds, words, morphophonological alternations--the whole megillah) across languages and across different ability levels. That is, we are interested in whether language impairments, phonological disorders, and psychosocial impairments [like autism] are associated with a decreased ability to interpret variable linguistic forms as indicators of social meaning. We are also interested in how talkers convey attributes, social categories, and stances through phonetic variation, and how listeners perceive these.

This is exciting work. It has required me to read outside of the usual journals that I read and go to new conferences. I have had to re-train myself in areas I never thought I would study: personality psychology, metacognition, linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and cultural studies, just to name a few. Bridging different disciplines is exciting and has helped me see language in an entirely new light.

Students who are interested in issues related to linguistic and cultural diversity as they impact the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology are encouraged to read up on our department's Bilingual and Multicultural Emphasis Program.

I had the fun experience of being in David Thorpe's film Do I Sound Gay?  If you haven't seen it, the answer is yes, yes I do. I got to do some fun media around that film, including a podcast called Lexicon Valley and a call-in show on KPCC called Air Talk.

In addition to my programmatic research, I have many other smaller projects on a potpourri of topics in laboratory phonology. These include work on speech production in adults, speech perception in individuals with cochlear implants, cleft palate, and other interesting topics. Dabbling in different research areas is one of the reasons why being a professor is so much fun. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of working outside of my primary areas of expertise is that I get to work with and learn from my colleagues. I have particularly enjoyed the work in this section on the influence of lexical factors on speech production (Munson, 2007; Munson & Solomon, 2004; Watson & Munson, 2007, 2008). In an ideal world, I would give this line of research equal billing and equal time with my work on acquisition and sociophonetics.


I teach/have taught a variety of courses: Physics and Biology of Spoken Language, Rate Your World!  Quantifying Judgments of Human Behavior, Phonetics, Speech Science (that's roughly equivalent to laboratory phonology or experimental phonetics), and Phonological Disorders, Atypical Speech and Language. I have occasionally taught a freshman seminar.Needless to say, I have the opportunity to do numerous one-on-one reading groups with doctoral students. I love classroom teaching. It's like improvisational theater.

In the teaching narrative that I wrote in fall 2005 for my tenure case, I wrote the following. At the time I thought it was painfully corny, but every time I look back at it I like it a little bit more.

"My teaching experiences in the past five years have been diverse, including classroom teaching, independent studies, and research mentoring of students at all levels.  All of my teaching reflects my philosophy of science, which has been strongly influenced by the work of David Hull (e.g., Science as a Process, University of Chicago Press [1988]).  Hull proposes that science is a Darwinian process—a cooperative, social activity that advances human knowledge to better adapt humans to the world in which we live.  Hull's work emphasizes the role of diverse communities working cooperatively to advance knowledge.  This cooperative work cannot occur if students are presented with a narrow vision of scholarship that encompasses only the field reflected in a course's designator.  In my classroom teaching, I ensure that students are exposed to viewpoints and methodologies from different disciplines.  In my research mentorship, I emphasize that students consider the broader context of their research.  The projects that I have mentored are characterized by an integration of intellectual traditions from disparate fields.  I hope that this helps to shape a generation of scholars who think integratively and work cooperatively with colleagues in a variety of disciplines, as this will advance our knowledge far more effectively than a generation who works in isolation."

I was honored to write a chapter in the most recent version of Shriberg and Kent's classic text, Clinical Phonetics.  

Teaching also means one-on-one research mentoring. I have advised or co-advised numerous undergraduate magna and summa cum laude theses, MA theses, and  Ph.D. dissertations.  I have been involved in dissertations at University of Michigan, University of Cincinnati, Aix-Marseille University, and KTH (Stockholm).  


Like so many scholars these days, my research crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. (Indeed, the phrase "my research crosses traditioanl disciplinary boundaries" probably shows up in 90% of the tenure research narratives that people have written this year and last!) It integrates theory and practice from speech-language-hearing sciences, speech-language pathology, linguistics, and psychology, among other disciplines. Collaboration is as rewarding as it is difficult. Traditional practice in the sciences is to build a fifedom, to work in isolation, and to defend the fifedom against outside marauders. Collaboration can require a person to check his/her credentialist ambitions at the door

I am fortunate to work with a number of people on these ongoing projects. I work very closely with Jan Edwards and Mary Beckman. I have collaborated with them since I started my doctoral program (Edwards was my PhD mentor, and Beckman was a de facto second-in-command) and probably will continue to work with them right up until one of us retires. We currently collaborate together on learning to talk and on many other projects. Our NSF grant included a collaboration with Eric Fosler-Lussier, from whom I learned much about computational linguistics and server maintenance.  I'm honored to be an affiliate member of the Delta Center at the University of Iowa.

I've had some other great collaborations in the past.  I worked with Elizabeth Smith (currently at UQAM) and Kathleen Currie Hall (currently at UBC) on the nature of socioindexical meaning. That project was a great opportunity for me to learn about formal semantics and pragmatics. Kathleen and Elizabeth are excellent collaborators. Our experiments (of which there are many, both completed and ongoing) have forced me to revise a broad claim I made in Munson, McDonald et al. (2006) about the social meaning of different [æ] variants in Minnesota, and to think in greater detail about the phonetic parameterization of these variants.  Molly Babel (currently at UBC) my first (but not my last) star undergraduate, and continues to be a close collaborator.  The list goes on: Lisa Archibald, Fangfang Li, Kiyoko Yoneyama--too many great collaborators to count.  

My Education

I had the great fortune of going to a grammar school called the Coalition for Action, Unity, and Social Equality (CAUSE) school, a magnet school with a strong focus on social justice and experimental education. I went there from kindergarten through the end of grade school. I then went to high school at Mt. St. Joseph's Academy, a Catholic school also in Buffalo. After three very enjoyable years at Mount ('84-'87), it closed down.. I then spent a year at the City Honors School, a very nice school (consistently rated very highly by Newsweek) where most of my grade-school friends had gone. After one interesting year at Tufts University, I dropped out of college for a semester and ended up eventually at the State University of New York at Buffalo. I got a B.A. with a triple major in Political Science, Russian, and Linguistics in '92. I had a spectacular two and a half years as a graduate student in linguistics at UCLA, which ended when I dropped out of graduate school in early '95. After a few months working as a parking lot attendant at the Buffalo Zoo, I went on to Ohio State, where I got my M.A. in speech-language pathology in December '97 and my Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Science in '00. I started my position as an Assistant Professor at Minnesota three days before I formally received my Ph.D. I feel very fortunate to have had some incredibly dedicated teachers at each of the schools I went to. I'm also very proud that my sister Nancy continues to teach in the same school district that educated us.

My Family

Since October of 2004  Kevin Burk and I have been together! Kevin has recently been called "everyone's favorite non-linguist", and frequently attends conferences with me so that he can hang out in Chicago, Wellington, San Francisco, etc. We had a great civil union ceremony on July 3, 2008, in Wellington, New Zealand. Because it was right after Labphon 11, we were fortunate enough to be joined by many of our friends. We had a honeymoon in the South Pacific, which was pretty much a dream come true for me. Thanks to the great enlightenment of 2013 we were legally married at the state and federal level on August 9, 2013.  We live in an apartment in a high-rise in beautiful Downtown Minneapolis It's filled with pop-culture artifacts and books, books, books, and more books. And a cat, Carrie Munson-Burk. We are fortunate to be in the heart of the Twin Cities, one of the nicest places in the country to live.

My family comprises not just the family I was born into or the one I married, but to the groups of people whose lives and fates have become woven together with mine over these years.  Some of these are my colleagues, and some are  fellow travelers on the road of happy destiny.  In my life, I've loved them all.  

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.