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Aug. 16, 2018

MSU professor accepts prestigious award

Catherine Ryu, MSU associate professor of Japanese literature, received the prestigious 2018 Esperanto "Access to Language Education” Award, presented by CALICO, or Computer Assisted Language Consortium, the Esperantic Studies Foundation, and for her online database of the Mandarin language, Tone Perfect.

Commercialization of this technology, fully realized in the educational app Picky Birds, is expected to begin as soon as Fall 2018. The app and database come from Ryu’s 2015 Tone Perception and Efficacy Study, or ToPES, where Ryu and her team studied the perception of tonal differences.

“Funds from a Targeted Support Grant for Technology Development (TSGTD) were used to build a tonal suite of voices for Dr. Ryu's language app called Picky Birds, which will be released at a later date,” said Anne C. Di Sante, CLP, associate director at MSU Technologies. “The unintended positive outcome was an award-winning tone library that has become a strong resource for education and research. This is a great example of how working with a tech transfer office can maximize access to resources developed at MSU."   

Ryu’s research initiatives include classic Japanese literature, Heian narratives, gender studies, zainichi studies, global studies and game studies. Tone Perfect, which she developed in tandem with the MSU libraries digital team, includes the full catalog of monosyllabic sounds in Mandarin Chinese (410 altogether) in four classic Mandarin tones, equating to a library of 1,640 tones in female and male voices.

In an interview about Picky Birds published April 14, 2016, Ryu told Michigan Radio the goal of the app is to help create an avenue for native English speakers—who do not possess the “infrastructure in their brains” to perceive the tonal complexities of Mandarin—to learn the language better and create those “neural pathways.”

Picky Birds was developed by both the MSU College of Arts and Letters faculty and staff and its media team includes members of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. Music in the app was created by a computer music composer who teaches at Mott Community College in Flint.

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