I was studying music at university, and I took a course in my second year about music and science. It covered all sorts of things — including how the ear works and how musical instruments work — but it was the psychology of music that really interested me. I was fascinated by trying to understand how we perceive and understand things like rhythm and harmony, and how and why music and language developed. That was the starting point for my interest in speech and psychology — and that’s how I ended up doing the job I do now, in which I research the psychology of voices!
My secondary school French teacher, Mr Gormally, inspired me to study French (and other languages) at university. I am still in touch with him, thirty years later…
But, at that time, I didn’t know about linguistics (the science of how language works, which is what I study now). I found that out in the second year of my university degree, and I’ve never looked back! I just loved it.
I’ve always been interested in language. But I never thought of studying linguistics or psychology – I loved books, so I studied English Literature at university. I didn’t start to think about language itself as something that needs explaining until I read an amazing book called Elizabeth Costello, by J.M. Coetzee. It’s about the things we can’t say with language: about how, as humans, we’re sort of trapped in language, and that influences how we look at the world. It stuck with me. It made me ask the sort of questions I still work on today: how are human thoughts different from animal thoughts? Where did language come from? Does language allow us to have thoughts we couldn’t have without it, and does it trap us into thinking about things in certain ways? I realised these were questions I couldn’t answer by studying literature, but I really wanted to know! So I did a Masters in Evolution of Language and Cognition, and that put me on the path to what I do today.