Universiteit Leiden

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Yiya Chen

Professor Phonetics

Prof.dr. Y. Chen
+31 71 527 1688

Yiya Chen is a Professor of Phonetics at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. She studies the sounds of languages with an interdisciplinary approach. The broad goal of her research is to understand the language structures and cognitive mechanisms that underlie speech and speech communication. Yiya is particularly intrigued by the way speakers of different languages employ melodic pitch variations (together with other cues) to convey layers of information in speech, signaling not only word-level meanings but also higher-level messages (such as asking questions, highlighting important information, signaling intention, and conveying attitude or emotion).

More information about Yiya Chen


My main research focus has been on the universality and diversity of melodic forms and functions in speech. I pay close attention to the biological constraints, cognitive representations, and neural processing capacities that enable speakers to produce and listeners to decipher marvelously complex melodic signals in typologically different languages. I take a multiple methods approach and draw evidence from acoustic analyses of speech, behavioral reaction time and eye-movement patterns, as well as event-related brain responses. 

With respect to language area, I have a strong interest in Chinese (especially Mandarin and Wu dialect families). I do maintain an interest in other Sinitic varieties (e.g., Gan, Min, and Xiang dialects) and Tibeto-Burman languages (e.g., Lizu and Xumi). I have also had the opportunity to work on languages that are typologically different from the Sino-Tibetan family, such as Zulu & Ewe (Niger-Congo) and Kedang & Selayarese (Austronesian). 

I currently serve on the editorial board of Journal of Phonetics (since 2012) and Journal of International Phonetic Association (since 2015)

Main Research Projects (as Principal Investigator): 

2020-2024 Melody in speech (VICI, NWO)
2013-2017 Neural encoding of prosodic variation in speech communication (KNAW-China Joint Research Project Grant (Chinese Co-PI: Xiaoqing Li))
2008-2014 Representation and processing of pitch variation in tonal languages (ERC-Starting Grant, European Research Council (ERC))
2008 –2013 An experimental approach to the interaction of tone sandhi and focus expression in six dialects of Chinese (VIDI, NWO)
2004 – 2007 A cross-linguistic account of focus realization: Evidence from Standard Chinese and the Shanghai Dialect (VENI, NWO)

Curriculum Vitae

I graduated in 2003 from Stony Brook University with a PhD in linguistics, specializing in Phonetics and Phonology. Before moving to Leiden, I worked as Research Fellow at University of Edinburgh and Radboud University Nijmegen. Prior to my PhD, I studied at Beijing Foreign Studies University (BA), Stony Brook University (MA), and taught at various universities. 

Teaching Activities and Supervision

I teach Phonetics at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at Leiden University Center for Linguistics (LUCL). Before moving to Leiden, I taught Chinese at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Phonetics at Cornell University, and Phonology at New York University.

I have been the supervisor and co-promotor of eight successfully completed PhD projects at Leiden University Center for Linguistics (LUCL). I also regularly supervise MA and BA projects.

  • Franziska Scholz (2012)
    Tone sandhi, prosodic phrasing, and focus marking in Wenzhou Chinese.  
  • Jessie Nixon (2014)
    Sound of Mind: Electrophysiological and behavioral evidence for the role of context, variation and informativity in human speech processing 
  • Junru Wu (2015)
    Tonal bilingual: the case of two closely related Chinese dialects. 
  • Qian Li (2016)
    Production and perception of tonal variation: Evidence from Tianjin Mandarin. 
  • Man Wang (2017)
    A psycholinguistic investigation of speech production in Mandarin Chinese.  
  • Ting Zou (2017)
    Production and perception of tones by Dutch learners of Mandarin
  • Min Liu (2018)
    Tone and intonation processing: From ambiguous acoustic signal to linguistic representation.  
  • Yifei Bi (2019)
    The production and perception of incomplete tonal neutralization

Key publications

  • Li, X. & Chen, Y. (2018). Unattended processing of hierarchical pitch variations in spoken sentences. Brain and Language 183: 21-31.
  • Chen, Y., Lee, P., & Pan, H. (2016). Focus and topic marking in Chinese. In Féry, C. & Ishihara, S. (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Information Structure. Oxford: Oxford University Press.   
  • Chen, Y. (2016). Neutral tone. In Sybesma, R., Behr, W., Gu, Y. Handel, Z. and Huang, J. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Chinese Language and Linguistics. Leiden: Brill.  
  • Chen, Y. & Gussenhoven, C. (2015). Shanghai Chinese. Journal of International Phonetic Association (JIPA) 45 (3): 321-337.
  • Li, X. and Chen, Y. (2015). Representation and processing of lexical tone and tonal variants: Evidence from the Mismatch Negativity. PLoS ONE 10: e0143097.
  • Chen, Y. (2012). Message-related variation. In Cohn, A., Fourgeron, C., and Huffman, M. (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Laboratory Phonology. pp. 103-115. Oxford: Oxford University Press.    
  • Chen, Y. (2011). What does phonology tell us about the phonetics of segment-f0 interaction? Journal of Phonetics 39: 612-625.  
  • Chen, Y. (2008). The acoustic realization of Shanghai vowels.  Journal of Phonetics 36 (4): 629-748. 
  • Chen, Y., & Gussenhoven, C. (2008). Emphasis and tonal implementation in Standard Chinese.   Journal of Phonetics 36 (4): 724-746. 
  • Bard, E., Anderson, A.,  Chen, Y. Nicholson, H., Havard, C., & Dalziel-Job, S. (2007). Let’s you do that: Sharing the cognitive burdens of dialogue.  Journal of Language and Memory57(4): 616-641. 
  • Chen, Y., & Xu, Y. (2006). Production of weak elements in speech: Evidence from neutral tone in Standard Chinese.  Phonetica 63: 47-75.    
  • Chen, Y. (2006). Durational adjustment under corrective focus in Standard Chinese. Journal of Phonetics 34: 176-201.

Professor Phonetics

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Univ Centre for Linguistics
  • LUCL Taalwetenschap

Work address

Reuvensplaats 3-4
2311 BE Leiden
Room number 0.51



  • No relevant ancillary activities
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