Francis Nolan

Department of Linguistics
University of Cambridge
Sidgwick Avenue
Cambridge CB3 9DA


TEL: +44 (0)1223 335060
FAX: +44 (0)1223 335053

Francis Nolan

Francis Nolan is Reader in Phonetics in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Cambridge


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). As a consequence I got involved in the application of phonetics in forensics.

Currently my research interests also include intonation (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 many other areas.

My teaching covers phonetic theory and description, phonology, practical phonetic skills, and experimental phonetics.

I have been Vice President of the International Phonetic Association (from 1999 to 2003) and was previously its Secretary (from 1993 to 1995).

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: The phonetics and phonology of Italian geminates. 2000
  • Keiko Masuda: A phonetic study of sound symbolism. 2002.

In progress:

  • Mark Jones: The phonetics and phonology of definite article reduction in Northern English dialects.
  • Eva Liina Asu: An analysis of Estonian intonation.
  • Margit Aufterbeck: The intonation of Scottish English in Anstruther, Fife.
  • Rachael-Anne Knight: The plateau effect in English intonation.
  • Hildur Jónsdóttir: Intonation and accentuation in Icelandic.
  • Lluisa Astruc: The intonation of sentence-external elements in Catalan.
  • Kirsty McDougall: The role of formant dynamics in determining speaker identity.

Forensic applications of phonetics

The application of phonetics in the legal area has been controversial. In particular, attempts to make absolute 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.

However 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.

I am a founder member of the International Association for Forensic Phonetics.

  • 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). click to download MSWord copy
  • 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 (1991a) Forensic phonetics. Journal of Linguistics 27, 483-493.
  • F. Nolan (1990b) The limitations of auditory phonetic speaker recognition. In: H. Kniffka (ed.), Texte zu Theorie und Praxis forensischer Linguistik. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  • F. Nolan (1983) The Phonetic Bases of Speaker Recognition. Cambridge: CUP.


Connected Speech Processes (CSPs) are important because phonetic ëshort cutsí 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.

  • 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 [S] accommodation in English. Journal of Phonetics 24, 113-137.
  • T. Holst and F. Nolan (1995) The influence of syntactic structure on [s] to [S] 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.


I have taught the analysis of intonation within the ëBritishí framework, and have followed the development of ëautosegmental-metricalí alternatives, particularly ëToBIí.

These frameworks are in many ways compatible, and also suffer from a common difficulty when it comes to handling dialect variation in intonation. This is perhaps because both traditions have blurred the issue of whether they are describing phonological contrasts or phonetic detail. The ESRC has funded a major project in Cambridge, English intonation in the British Isles (October 1997 - March 2002; grant R000237145), which has recorded and analysed systematic intonation data from several dialects of English.

The project has the practical goal of making available a database, the IViE corpus, of intonationally comparable samples from different dialects. The data is being used to address issues such as how far we need distinct 'phonetic' and 'phonological' representations for intonation.

  • 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.

Francis Nolan's Home Page: 

Updated on 15 Oct. 2005

This website was created by LIU Weiming on 6 May, 2002.