Elmhurst, Illinois – February 19, 2021 – The American Hearing Research Foundation, headquartered in Elmhurst, Illinois, announced that it has awarded its Birtman Grant, a single grant of $75,000, to Northwestern University researcher Jennifer Krizman, PhD. This is the first time in over 14 years that AHRF has offered this prestigious award for exceptional scientific investigation, along with its annual grant funding awards.
“We’re very excited about the studies we’re supporting this year,” noted Research Committee Chair and AHRF Director Donna Whitlon. “Krizman’s study in particular taps into hearing and comprehension issues that affect our diverse population.”
Krizman’s study will look for separate and shared mechanisms that enable a listener to recognize and understand speech with environmental noise and non-native talking. Study participants will include middle-aged listeners with and without hearing loss. Krizman explained, “We’re good at listening in quiet, pristine conditions. It’s much harder when we’re listening in noise or listening to a non-native speaker. The talker’s message is degraded before it even reaches the listener’s ears.”
Accented speech is part of everyday life, whether in neighborhoods or with colleagues working across scientific fields. There are 378 million people worldwide who speak English as their first language, and 743 million who speak English as their second language.
Krizman explained, “We know from prior work that the fundamental frequency or pitch matters with speech in noise. It provides a steady cue for a listener to follow through the noise. We’ll look for mechanisms that allow some people to adapt more readily to non-native speakers – for instance, pitch or harmonic discrimination.
As listeners, she notes, “We need to concentrate harder to understand non-native speech, which can lead to a negative experience.” She’d like to help people tailor their listening strategies so accents and noise become less difficult, and “ease the burden that non-native speakers feel when trying to communicate.”
Ultimately, Krizman would like to explore the mechanisms that support speech recognition for listeners across a wide age span, from various backgrounds, and explore the impact of factors such as hearing acuity, music training, bilingualism, and demographics.
About the Bitman Grant
AHRF’s Birtman Grant supports studies that investigate various aspects of hearing and balance disorders related to the inner ear, with up to $75,000 for one year of research. This grant honors Georgia Birtman, a school teacher with a hearing impairment, who bequeathed $2.1 million to AHRF in 1991.
AHRF is a nonprofit organization that has been making new discoveries possible for more than 60 years by funding novel research to better understand and overcome hearing and balance disorders of the inner ear. Since 2010, the organization has funded 95 projects with nearly $2.3 million in research grants.