Francis Nolan

Contact information:
Phonetics Laboratory
Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics
University of Cambridge
Sidgwick Avenue
Cambridge CB3 9DA, UK

TEL: +44 (0)1223 335060

I am Professor of Phonetics in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (DTAL) at the University of Cambridge where I have spent most of my career (mostly in its incarnation as the Department of Linguistics, before its merger in 2011 with the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics). My first post was in the University of Wales at Bangor, which is where I began teaching phonetics.

I also hold an Honorary Professorship in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science at the University of York.

I was President of the British Association of Academic Phoneticians (BAAP) from 2006 to 2014. I am on the Council of the International Phonetic Association and was its Vice President (from 1999 to 2003) and previously its Secretary (from 1993 to 1995). I am a Founder Member of the International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics.


My research interests centre on phonetic theory. I take a broad, 'expansionist' view of phonetics, considering its scope to include all the things we can tell when a person speaks. In this vein, my early research looked at how, and to what extent, the identity of a speaker is encoded in speech - see for instance my book The Phonetic Bases of Speaker Recognition (Cambridge: CUP, 1983; reissued 2009). As a consequence I got involved in the application of phonetics in forensics, and this remains a central interest.

My research activity also includes intonation and other aspects of prosody (including dialect differences in intonation), and connected speech processes, the phonetic variation which occurs in fluent, natural speech. I have supervised PhDs in these and several other areas.

My teaching covers phonetic theory and description, practical phonetic skills (traditional and computer-aided), experimental phonetics, and basic phonology.

Cambridge PhD dissertations supervised by Francis Nolan

Clive Grey: The word phonology of Welsh. 1983
Briony Williams: Stress in modern Welsh. 1983
Paul Warren: The temporal organisation and perception of speech. 1985
Paul Kerswill: A sociolinguistic study of rural immigrants in Bergen, Norway. 1986
Jonathan Harrington: The phonetic analysis of stuttering. 1986
David Deterding: Speaker normalisation for automatic speaker recognition. 1991
Helen Pandeli: The articulation of lingual consonants: an EPG study. 1993
Ian Watson: The effects of bilingualism on the acquisition of the voicing contrast. 1997
Ee Ling Low: Prosodic prominence in Singapore English. 1998
Elinor Payne: Consonant gemination in Italian: evidence for a fortition continuum. 2000
Keiko Masuda: A phonetic study of sound symbolism. 2002
Margit Aufterbeck: Scottish English intonation: a phonetic analysis of a Fife dialect. 2003
Rachael-Anne Knight: Peaks and plateaux: the production and perception of intonational high targets in English. 2003
Eva Liina Asu: The phonetics and phonology of Estonian intonation. 2004
Mark Jones: The phonetics and phonology of definite article reduction in Northern English dialects. 2005
Lluisa Astruc: The intonation of sentence-external elements in Catalan and English. 2005
Kirsty McDougall: The role of formant dynamics in determining speaker identity. 2005
Eftychia Eftychiou: Lenition processes in Cypriot Greek. 2009
Ruth Cumming: Speech rhythm: the language-specific integration of pitch and duration. 2010
Spyros Armosti: The phonetics of plosive and affricate gemination in Cypriot Greek. 2011
Hae-Sung Jeon: Prosodic phrasing in Seoul Korean: the role of pitch and timing cues. 2011
Yvonne Flory: The impact of head postures and body orientations on the acoustic speech signal. 2014

In progress:

Ricky Chan: Tonal information in forensic speaker comparison.
Geraldine Kwek: Innovations in the realisation and phonotactics of /r/ in Singapore English.
Yang Li: Fuzhou tone sandhi.
Kayeon Yoo: Domain-initial strengthening effects in Korean.

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Forensic applications of phonetics

The application of phonetics in the legal area has been controversial. In particular, claimed identifications of individuals from tape recordings of speech have led to potential miscarriages of justice. I have challenged inadequate evidence and overstated conclusions, both in court and in academic papers; and I have promoted the role of acoustic analysis in speaker comparison, and contributed to the acceptance by UK forensic phonetics experts of a more cautious framework for stating opinions.

I believe that, since the demand for analysis of speech exists and will grow, it is important that the best phonetic expertise is made available to the forensic field, and therefore that phoneticians should interest themselves in this application of their discipline and not ignore it because of its imperfections.

One of the problems in forensic speaker identification is the lack of data on phonetic and acoustic variation in the population. The project Dynamic Variability in Speech (DyViS) (October 2005 - December 2009; funded by ESRC grant RES-000-23-1248) has mitigated this problem. It has collected a carefully controlled database of 100 same-accent speakers, and is exploring (a) between-speaker differences in rapidly changing parts of the speech signal, and (b) the relation between phonetic variation between individuals and phonological change/stability within the community. It has been widely used in various kinds of research related to speaker characterisation.

A smaller project Voice Similarity and the Effect of the Telephone (VoiceSim) (January to December 2008; funded by ESRC grant RES-000-22-2582) made use of some of the voices in the DyViS database to explore how the telephone might affect earwitness evidence. It emerges that the telephone does make speakers somewhat more similar to each other; but the most striking finding is that if a witness heard a perpetrator's voice over the telephone, a hi-fi voice parade is likely to damage identification accuracy compared to a voice parade using telephone speech.

K. McDougall, F. Nolan, & T. Hudson (2015) Telephone transmission and earwitnesses: performance on voice parades controlled for voice similarity. Phonetica 72(4), 257-272.
doi: 10.1159/000439385
F. Nolan, K. McDougall & T. Hudson (2013) Effects of the telephone on perceived voice similarity: implications for voice line-ups. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 20(2), 229-246.
doi: 10.1558/ijsll.v20i2.229
F. Nolan (2012) Degrees of freedom in speech production: an argument for native speakers in LADO. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 19(2), 263-289. doi: 10.1558/ijsll.v19i2.263
P. French, F. Nolan, P. Foulkes, & K. McDougall (2010) The UK position statement on forensic speaker comparison: a rejoinder to Rose and Morrison. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 17(1), 143-152.
F. Nolan, K. McDougall, G. de Jong & T. Hudson (2009) The DyViS database: style-controlled recordings of 100 homogeneous speakers for forensic phonetic research. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 16(1), 31-57.
S. Lawrence, F. Nolan & K. McDougall (2008) Acoustic and perceptual effects of telephone transmission on vowel quality. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 15(2), 161-192.
G. de Jong, K. McDougall & F. Nolan (2007) Sound change and speaker identity: an acoustic study. In Christian Müller and Susanne Schötz (eds.), Speaker Classification. Springer. 130-141. doi 10.1007/978-3-540-74122-0_12 K. McDougall and F. Nolan (2007) Discrimination of speakers using the formant dynamics of /u:/ in British English. In J. Trouvain and W. Barry (eds.), Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 6-10 August 2007, Saarbrücken, 1825-1828.
G. de Jong, K. McDougall, T. Hudson and F. Nolan (2007) The speaker-discriminating power of sounds undergoing historical change: a formant-based study. In J. Trouvain and W. Barry (eds.), Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 6-10 August 2007, Saarbrücken, 1813-1816.
T. Hudson, G. de Jong, K. McDougall, P. Harrison and F. Nolan (2007) F0 statistics for 100 young male speakers of Standard Southern British English. In J. Trouvain and W. Barry (eds.), Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 6-10 August 2007, Saarbrücken, 1809-1812.
F. Nolan, K. McDougall, G. de Jong and T. Hudson (2006) A Forensic Phonetic Study of 'Dynamic' Sources of Variability in Speech: The DyViS Project. In: P. Warren and C.I. Watson (eds.), Proceedings of the 11th Australasian International Conference on Speech Science and Technology, 6-8 December 2006, Auckland: Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association, 13-18.
F. Nolan and C. Grigoras (2005) A case for formant analysis in forensic speaker identification. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 12(2).
F. Nolan (2005) Forensic speaker identification and the phonetic description of voice quality. In: W. Hardcastle and J. Beck (eds), A Figure of Speech. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum. pp 385-411.
F. Nolan (2004) Speaker identification by experts. In: P. Bogan (ed.), Identification: investigation, trial and scientific evidence. London: Legal Action Group. ISBN-10 1 903307 25 2, ISBN-13 978 1 903307 25 2.
F. Nolan (2003) A recent voice parade. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law [formerly Forensic Linguistics] 10(2), 277-291.
F. Nolan (2002) The 'telephone effect' on formants: a response. Forensic Linguistics 9(1), 74-82.
F. Nolan (2002) Intonation in speaker identification: an experiment on pitch alignment features. Forensic Linguistics 9(1), 1-21.
F. Nolan (2001) Speaker identification evidence: its forms, limitations, and roles. Proceedings of the conference 'Law and Language: Prospect and Retrospect', December 12-15 2001, Levi (Finnish Lapland).
J. Dankovicova and F. Nolan (1999) Some acoustic effects of speaking style on utterances for automatic speaker identification. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 29(2), 115-128.
F. Nolan (1997) Speaker recognition and forensic phonetics. In: W. Hardcastle and J. Laver (eds), A Handbook of Phonetic Science. Oxford: Blackwell.
F. Nolan and T. Oh (1996) Identical twins, different voices. Forensic Linguistics 3, 39-49.
F. Nolan and E. Grabe (1996) Preparing a voice line-up. Forensic Linguistics 3, 74-94.
F. Nolan (1993) Auditory and acoustic analysis in speaker recognition. In: J. Gibbons (ed.), Language and the Law. London: Longman.
F. Nolan (1991) Forensic phonetics. Journal of Linguistics 27, 483-493.
F. Nolan (1990) The limitations of auditory phonetic speaker recognition. In: H. Kniffka (ed.), Texte zu Theorie und Praxis forensischer Linguistik. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
F. Nolan (1983; reissued 2009) The Phonetic Bases of Speaker Recognition. Cambridge: CUP.

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Intonation and other prosodic systems

I have taught the analysis of intonation within the 'British' framework and 'autosegmental-metrical' (AM) alternatives of the type exemplified by the 'ToBI' conventions. These frameworks are in many ways compatible, and also suffer from a common difficulty when it comes to handling dialect variation in intonation.

To improve our understanding of such intonational variation, a major ESRC-funded project in Cambridge, English intonation in the British Isles (October 1997 - March 2002; grant R000237145), recorded and analysed systematic intonation data from several dialects of English. The project had the practical goal of making available a database, the IViE corpus, of intonationally comparable samples from different dialects. It also defined a variant AM transcription system which aimed to be transparent, optimally compatible with both main transcription traditions, and suited to dialect variation. The data has been used to investigate issues such as how far we need distinct 'phonetic' and 'phonological' representations for intonation, what the distribution of pitch accents is in different varieties, and how these differ in terms of phonetic detail.

Intonation models usually accept that there are both discrete, more linguistic aspects to intonation and aspects which are not organised in categories. Brechtje Post's project Categories and Gradience in Intonation (January 2009 - September 2012, ESRC RES-061-25-0347) in which I was involved tackled the question of whether there are neural correlates to the distinction between those aspect of intonation which are phonologically structured and those which rely on continuous variation in prosodic dimensions.

I have been active in research on speech rhythm, proposing the first version of the 'pairwise variability index' (PVI) to quantify languages on a dimension of 'syllable-timing' and 'stress-timing' (or 'foot-timing'). This metric was developed and applied to Singapore English by Ee Ling Low in her PhD dissertation and to other languages by Esther Grabe, Ee Ling Low, and others. Nolan and Asu (2009) proposed that syllable-timing and foot-timing are not opposite ends of a single continuum (quantified by a syllable-based PVI value), but rather are independent dimensions. Nolan and Jeon (2014) argues the iconoclastic position that languages may be fundamentally anti-rhythmic, and only by metaphorical extension can the concept of rhythm be applied.

Jeon, H-S. & Nolan, F. (2017) Prosodic marking of narrow focus in Seoul Korean. Laboratory Phonology: Journal of the Association for Laboratory Phonology 8(1) 2, 1–30.
B. Post, E. A. Stamatakis, I. Bohr, F. Nolan & C. Cummins (2015) Categories and gradience in intonation: A functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging study. In J. Romero and M. Riera (eds), The Phonetics–Phonology Interface. Representations and methodologies, 259–284. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi 10.1075/cilt.335.13pos
F. Nolan & H-S. Jeon (2014) Speech rhythm: a metaphor? Transactions of the Royal Society B 369, 20130396. doi:10.1098/rstb.2013.0396
H-S. Jeon & F. Nolan (2013) The role of pitch and timing cues in the perception of phrasal grouping in Seoul Korean. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 133(5), 3039-3049.
doi: 10.1121/1.4798663
F. Nolan & B. Post (2014) The IViE Corpus. In: J. Durand, U. Gut & G. Kristoffersen, (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Corpus Phonology. Oxford: OUP, 475-485.
B. Post & F. Nolan (2012) Data analysis for prosodic analysis of continuous speech and dialectal variation. In: A.C. Cohn, C Fougeron, & M. Huffman (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Laboratory Phonology. Oxford: OUP.
F. Nolan & E.L. Asu (2009) The Pairwise Variability Index and coexisting rhythms in language. Phonetica 66, 64-77. doi: 10.1159/000208931
E.L. Asu & F. Nolan (2007) Low accentuation in Estonian. Language and Speech 50(4), 567-588.
L. Astruc & F. Nolan (2007) Variation in the intonation of sentential adverbs in English and Catalan. In T. Riad and C. Gussenhoven (eds) Tones and Tunes Volume 1: Typological and Comparative Studies in Word and Sentence Prosody. Mouton de Gruyter, 233-262.
L. Astruc-Aguilera and F. Nolan (2007) A cross-linguistic study of extra-sentential elements. In P. Prieto, J. Mascaró, and M.J. Solé (eds) Phonetics and Phonology in Iberia. John Benjamin, 85-107.
E.L. Asu & F. Nolan (2006) Estonian and English rhythm: a two-dimensional quantification based on syllables and feet. In Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2006, Dresden, Germany, OS1-5_0229.pdf.
R.A. Knight and F. Nolan (2006) The effect of pitch span on intonational plateaux. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 36(1), 21-38.
F. Nolan (2006) Intonation. In: B. Aarts & A. McMahon (eds), Handbook of English Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell. Pre-publication version: Intonation.
M. Segerup and F. Nolan (2006) Gothenburg Swedish word accents: a case of cue trading? In: G. Bruce & M. Horne (eds), Nordic Prosody: Proceedings of the IXth Conference. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, pp. 225-233.
E.L. Asu & F. Nolan (2005) Estonian rhythm and the Pairwise Variability Index. Proceedings of Fonetik 2005, Gothenburg (
F. Nolan (2003) Intonational equivalence: an experimental evaluation of pitch scales. Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Barcelona, 771-774.
E.L. Asu & F. Nolan (2003) Testing a model of Estonian intonation. Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Barcelona, 1249-1252.
F. Nolan & H. Jónsdóttir (2001) Accentuation patterns in Icelandic. In W.A. van Dommelen & T. Fretheim (eds), Nordic Prosody: Proceedings of the VIII Conference, Trondheim 2000. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
E.L. Asu & F. Nolan (2001) The interaction of intonation and quantity in Estonian: an analysis of nuclear falls in statements and questions. In W.A. van Dommelen & T. Fretheim (eds), Nordic Prosody: Proceedings of the VIII Conference, Trondheim 2000. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
E-L. Low, E. Grabe, & F. Nolan (2000) Quantitative characterizations of speech rhythm: syllable-timing in Singapore English. Language & Speech 43, 377-401.
E. Grabe, B. Post, F. Nolan, & K. Farrar (2000) Pitch accent realisation in four varieties in British English. Journal of Phonetics 28, 161-185.
F. Nolan & E. Grabe (1997) Can 'ToBI' transcribe intonational variation in British English? In Botinis, A., Kouroupetroglou, G., & Carayiannis, G. (eds), Proc. ESCA Workshop on Intonation: Theory, Models and Applications, Athens, pp 259-62.
F. Nolan (1995) The effect of emphasis on declination in English intonation. In: J. Windsor Lewis (ed.), Studies in English and General Phonetics. London: Routledge. pp 241-54.

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Connected Speech Processes (CSPs) are important because phonetic 'short cuts' such as assimilation and reduction provide insights into how speech production is organised. I have contributed to demonstrating, using instrumental techniques such as electropalatography, that an assimilation such as [red gu:s] -> [reg gu:s] often does not involve a discrete swap of one sound for another. But I have also provided data challenging the claim that all such CSPs can be accounted for as 'gestural overlap', as sometimes claimed in Articulatory Phonology.

The PhD dissertation by Eftychia Eftychiou, Connected speech processes in Cypriot Greek, represents my more recent (vicarious) involvement in this area. She looked, for instance, at final vowel devoicing, and found a complementary relation between vowel devoicing and a CSP voicing the preceding consonant, suggesting a finely balanced laryngeal adjustment whose outcome in terms of persisting or expiring voicing might depend on the magnitude of the oral constriction gesture.

B. Kühnert & F. Nolan (1999) The origin of coarticulation. In: W.J. Hardcastle and N. Hewlett (eds), Coarticulation: Theory, Data and Techniques in Speech Production. Cambridge: CUP. pp 7-30.
F. Nolan, T. Holst, & B. Kühnert (1996) Modelling [s] to [ʃ] accommodation in English. Journal of Phonetics 24, 113-137.
T. Holst and F. Nolan (1995) The influence of syntactic structure on [s] to [ʃ] assimilation. In: B. Connell and A. Arvaniti (eds), Phonology and Phonetic Evidence: Papers in Laboratory Phonology IV. Cambridge: CUP. pp 315-333.
F. Nolan and H. Cobb (1994) Connected speech processes in Cambridge English: an evaluative experiment. In: G. Melchers and N-L. Johannesson (eds), Non-standard Varieties of Language. Stockholm: University of Stockholm Press. pp 146-58.
F. Nolan (1992) The descriptive role of segments: evidence from assimilation. In: G. Docherty and D.R. Ladd (eds.), Laboratory Phonology 2, 261-280. Cambridge: CUP.
F. Nolan and P.E. Kerswill (1990) The description of connected speech processes. In: S. Ramsaran (ed.), Studies in the Pronunciation of English. London: Routledge.

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For information about the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (DTAL), its research, and its courses of study including the one-year MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, and PhD research, click here

Last modified 06 January 2017