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    Olga Feher


School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences,
University of Edinburgh,
Room 1.16, Dugald Stewart Building,
3 Charles Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AD

Email: olga.feher@ed.ac.uk
Phone: +44 (0)131 650 6658
Twitter: @OlgaFeher


Research Interests

I am interested in the cultural evolution of birdsong and language, with a particular interest in social influences on the learning of song and language. During my PhD at the City College of New York, I studied how zebra finch wild-type song with abnormal characteristics evolves species-typical features over a few generations in different social environments. As a post-doc I ran further experiments to investigate the necessary social requirements for the appearance of wild-type song features by self-tutoring juvenile zebra finches (paper forthcoming!).

I recently switched study organisms and moved my focus from birds to humans and from birdsong to human language. As a Newton Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, I began looking at how random variation which is rare in natural languages, is eliminated as a result of learning, communicative interactions and cultural transmission.


Outreach

June 28th 2016: I presented my research at the British Academy Soirée in London sponsored by the BA.
http://www.britac.ac.uk/soiree2016

My research was featured at the Museum Lates in the London Science Museum in June 2015. The theme was The Next Big Thing, a collaboration between the Science Museum and the Royal Society to showcase research undertaken by RS fellows. I and PhD students from the Centre for Language Evolution at Edinburgh University ran demonstrations on how transmission leads to different outcomes in a linguistic versus a non-linguistic task. It featured aliens, carrots and celery, and it was lots of fun!

Publications

Fehér, O., Ljubicic, I., Suzuki, K., Okanoya, K. & Tchernichovski, O. (2017). Statistical learning in songbirds: from self-tutoring to song culture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0053.

Smith, K., Perfors, A., Fehér, O., Samara, A., Swoboda, K., & Wonnacott, E. (2017). Language learning, language use and the evolution of linguistic variation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0051.

Tchernichovski, O., Fehér, O., Fimiarz, D. & Dalton, C. (2017). How social learning adds up to polymorphic culture: from songbirds to humans. Journal of Experimental Biology. 220, 1.

Fehér, O., Wonnacott, E., & Smith, K. (2016). Structural priming in artificial languages and the regularization of unpredictable variation. Journal of Memory and Language. doi: 10.1016/j.jml.2016.06.002.

Fehér, O. (2016). Atypical birdsong and artificial languages provide insights into how communication systems are shaped by learning, use and transmission. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. Available online: doi:10.3758/s13423-016-1107-5.

Lipkind, D., Marcus, G. F., Bemis, D., Sasahara, K., Jakoby, N., Takahashi, M., Suzuki, K., Fehér, O., Ravbar, P., Okanoya, K., & Tchernichovski, O. (2013). Stepwise acquisition of vocal combinatorial capacity in songbirds and human infants. Nature, 498, 104-108.

Fehér, O., Wang, H., Saar, S., Mitra, P. P., & Tchernichovski, O. (2009). De novo establishment of wild-type song culture in the zebra finch. Nature, 459, 564-568.

Derégnaucourt, S., Mitra, P. P., Fehér, O., Pytte, C., & Tchernichovski, O. (2005). How sleep affects the developmental learning of birdsong. Nature, 433, 710-716.

Derégnaucourt, S. Mitra, P. P., Fehér, O., Maul, K. K., Lints, T. J., & Tchernichovski, O. (2004). Song Development: In Search of the Error-Signal. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1016, 364-376.

Under review / In prep

Fehér, O., Ritt, N., & Smith, K. (submitted). Eliminating unpredictable linguistic variation through interaction. Cognitive Psychology.

Fehér, O., Kirby, S., & Smith, K. Social influences on the regularization of unpredictable linguistic variation.

Fehér, O., Smith, K., Ljubicic, I., Suzuki, K., Okanoya, K., & Tchernichovski, O. Recursive self-tutoring induces acoustic convergence and periodic song structure in zebra finches.

Book chapters

Fehér, O., & Tchernichovski, O. (2013). Vocal culture in songbirds: An experimental approach to cultural evolution. In J. J. Bolhuis & Everaert, M. B. H. (Eds.), Birdsong, Speech & Language: Exploring the Evolution of Mind and Brain. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Selected conference proceedings (peer-reviewed)

Fehér, O., Wonnacott, L., Ritt, N., & Smith, K. (2016). Eliminating unpredictable variation through interaction. In Roberts S.G., Cuskley C., McCrohon L., Barceló-Coblijn L., Fehér O. & Verhoef T. (Eds.) The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference. doi:10.17617/2.2248195.

Fehér, O., Kirby, S., & Smith, K. (2014). Social influences on the regularization of unpredictable linguistic variation. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2187-2191). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Smith, K., Fehér, O., & Ritt, N. (2014). Eliminating unpredictable linguistic variation through interaction. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1461-1466). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Fehér, O., Ljubicic, I., Suzuki, K., Okanoya, K., & Tchernichovski, O. (2014). Birds tutored with their own developing song produce wildtype-like song as adults. In A. D. Smith, M. Schouwstra, B. de Boer & K. Smith (Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference (pp. 479-480). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.

Sasahara, K., Takahashi, M., Suzuki, K., Fehér, O., Tchernichovski, O., & Okanoya, K. (2010). Considering language evolution from birdsong development. In A. D. Smith, M. Schouwstra, B. de Boer & K. Smith (Eds.), The Evolution of  Language: Proceedings of the 8th International Conference (pp. 479-480). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.

Edited proceedings

Roberts, S.G., Cuskley, C., McCrohon, L., Barceló-Coblijn, L., Fehér, O., & Verhoef, T. (Eds.) The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference. doi:10.17617/2.2248195.

Selected conference talks

Fehér, O., Wonnacott, L., Ritt, N., & Smith, K. (2015). Eliminating unpredictable variation through interaction. (Presented at the 40th Boston University Conference on Language Development, Boston, USA.)

Fehér, O., Smith, K., Ljubicic, I., Suzuki, K., Okanoya, K., & Tchernichovski, O. (2015). Self-training in zebra finches reveals genetically and environmentally determined aspects of song. (Presented at Interdisciplinary Advances in Statistical Learning, San Sebastian, Spain.)

Fehér, O., Ritt, N., Smith, K., & ten Wolde, E. (2014). The spread of (in-)definiteness marking in Early English: reconstructing category emergence in the lab. (Presented at the 18th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics, Leuven, Belgium.)

Smith, K., Fehér, O., & Ritt, N. (2014). Eliminating unpredictable variation through interaction. (Presented at Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing, Edinburgh, UK.)