Faculty Spotlight

Stephanie White

Our capacity for language is near or at the essence of what makes us human. How this trait evolved is puzzling given that non-human primates can’t learn their vocalizations. (In the wild, adult chimps sound much like baby chimps but with deeper voices.) Precursor ‘Homo’ groups speaking precursors to language no longer exist. My research group focuses on one aspect of language: the ability of youngsters to listen to and compare their own vocalizations to those of adults and thereby move from babbling to pronouncing interpretable sounds. For this we study songbirds and ask how the puzzle pieces of their brains fit together to accomplish vocal mimicry. We currently focus on a molecule known as FoxP2 that, when disrupted in humans or birds, disrupts speech or song. FoxP2 connects to the network of molecules that together enable learned vocal communication. We are investigating the functional role of FoxP2 in song and at song circuit synapses. We are also investigating the network of molecules downstream of FOXP2 and their role in disorders of speech including in autism.

see more