New Faculty Spotlight: Argyro Katsika

Can you tell us a bit about your research?

I find the question of how speech communication works captivating. Speaking is a complex, uniquely human ability. It relies on precisely coordinated movements of the tongue, lips, larynx, jaw, and the respiratory system. These movements are shaped by linguistic structure. Most of my research quests ultimately seek to address this umbrella question: how does grammar, the multi-level linguistic structure, shape speech? I am particularly interested in (re)defining prosodic structure and dissect its effects on speech articulation. Prosodic structure is the component of grammar that organizes speech into cognitive units (e.g., syllables into words and words into phrases), and marks prominent elements in these units (e.g., stressed syllables in words and accented words in phrases). My goal is to offer an account of prosody unifying all its functions and a model of timing in speech production with underpinnings for cognitive reality, cross-linguistic extensions and clinical applications. I believe that for such a goal to be achieved speech should be seen as discourse and communicative interaction, languages representing a wide range of the prosodic typology should be included, and speech disorders that are attributed to difficulties in articulatory coordination should be examined. Some of my current projects directly assess this prosody-phonetics interface. For example, I am currently working on a model of prosodic interactions (it is fascinating how much pauses can say about this!), on the kinematic profile of stress and pitch accent, on the interactions of intonation and information structure, and on the effects of prosodic structure on speech errors. Some examples of other research interests of mine are coarticulation as a window into speech planning and the role of acoustic and articulatory feedback in L2 learning. To address these questions, I use the assistance of experimental methods, with EMA (Electromagnetic Articulometer) being my favorite tool. 


What do you find most rewarding about your work?

My work has many fascinating aspects, like the joy of a new finding, the pleasure of a breakthrough when resolving a methodological issue, the satisfaction arisen by inspiring discussions and brainstorming interactions with students and colleagues, the excitement in the eyes of students when learning something interesting, the excitement I feel when I learn or understand something new. I appreciate and enjoy every single aspect of my work, and I feel that what makes these aspects of my work meaningful is the sharing part. Sharing knowledge and ideas with my students, the scientific community, and the world. The feeling of being part of a community and a tradition, to which I actively contribute, is truly gratifying. 


What courses are you most excited about teaching at UCSB?

I love teaching, and I am excited that I teach and will be teaching about speech. Introduction to Phonetics, Articulatory Phonetics, Instrumental Phonetics, Speech and Technology are some of the courses I teach at UCSB. All of these courses are centered on speech, but each of them covers a different, fascinating aspect of speech and uses different approach and tools in doing so.


What are your current goals?

My first priority right now, an extremely exciting one, is to set up the phonetics lab and to see it come to life, not just with machines, but also, and mainly, with people. My ultimate goal is to forge a strong research group, which will use the lab as a platform for learning, interacting, researching, and being productive and creative, giving rise to a lively lab community, with a character of its own. I intend to achieve my own research goals in there, and to guide, assist and support its members to achieve theirs. Another priority of mine is to make sure that my students achieve their leaning goals and to provide them with valuable skills for any future path they might choose to take. I also plan to expand teaching offerings to speech disorders, speech in discourse, and to add a laboratory component.


How do you like living in Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara is beautiful, and to me it is special, because it is the closest experience I have had to where I grew up (in terms of actual geographical distance, it is the furthest away!). The combination of mountains, ocean, roof tiles, wooden signs on the streets and happy smiley people makes every day start and end optimistically. I have been here just for some months, and it already feels like home. 


What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy the outdoors, especially being by or in the ocean. My dream since I was very little was to travel a lot, and I have been pursuing this dream since then. But, what I enjoy the most is to discuss with people, and spend time with family and friends. A hobby of mine that combines all my little joys is photography. I love taking pictures of landscapes, nature, people, and moments. 


Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you?

As I mentioned earlier, I love discussing, sharing ideas, and brainstorming. If you are interested in speech, phonetics, articulation, prosody, and/or experimental methods, and would like to discuss your ideas and interests, don’t hesitate to contact me.