Khalil Iskarous

Associate Professor of Linguistics
Khalil Iskarous
Email Office GFS 301 Office Phone (213) 740-9197

Research & Practice Areas

Laboratory Phonology, Motor Control, Computational Linguistics, Hydrostatic Skeletons, Experimental Methods in Linguistics, Endangered Languages


I’m intrigued by the computational nature of two animal skills that I believe are highly inter-related: cognition and motor control. Both skills involve  combinatorial computational processes that organize lower level  units into higher units. In linguistic cognition, for instance, sounds combine into words, which combine into prosodically structured utterances, which combine into discourse. And in animal motor control, muscular contractions combine into synergies, which then organize into complex flexible purposful movements of an animal. I use two tools to try and understand the computational structure underlying the two skills: dynamical systems analysis and several interrelated methods from modern AI: Neural Turing Machines, Modern Hopfield Neural Networks, and Attention-based Neural Networks. 

I have worked on different aspects of phonological cognition and the integrated phonetic skills of speech production and perception, and the application of this knowledge to language change, various forms of atypical speech, and understanding the inner workings of modern AI systems. In terms of motor control, I have worked on human tongue dynamics using MRI with Dani Byrd (USC Dornsife), Krishna Nayak (USC Viterbi), and Shri Narayanan (USC Viterbi and Dornsife), octopus arms with Jennifer Mather (University of Lethbridge), and C. elegans, a beautiful worm, with Andrew Gracey (USC Dornsife). I pursue the hypothesis that the computational similarities of cognition and motor control can allow allow us to understand each through its similarities and differences with the other. Three NSF grants have supported this research program: INSPIRE: Dynamical Principles of Animal Movement (NSF 1246750, Iskarous (PI) and Gracey (co-PI), 2012-2017), MRI: Development of a High Performance Low-Field MRI for Dynamic Imaging (NSF-2240349, Nayak (PI), Byrd, Haldar, Iskarous, Naranan (co-PIs), 2018-2024), CompCog: Deep Causal Inference grounds the Perception of Cognitive Objects in Speech (NSF-2240349, Iskarous (PI), Byrd and Narayanan (co-PIs), 2023-2026).


  • Ph.D. Linguistics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2001
  • Research, Teaching, Practice, and Clinical Appointments

    • Research Scientist, Haskins Laboratories, 2001-2010
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    Laboratory Phonology, Motor Control, Hydrostatic Skeletons, Experimental Methods in Linguistics, Endangered Languages

    Research Keywords

    Laboratory Phonology, Motor Control, Hydrostatic Skeletons, Experimental Methods in Linguistics, Endangered Languages

  • Contracts and Grants Awarded

    • CompCog: Deep Causal Inference Grounds The Perception of Cognitive Objects in Speech, (National Science Foundation), Khalil Iskarous, Dani Byrd, Shri Narayanan, $599,998, 08/25/2023 – 07/31/2026
    • Dynamical Principles of Animal Movement, (National Science Foundation), Khalil Iskarous, Andrew Gracey, $973,963, 2012-2013
  • Book Chapters

    • iskarous, k., Goldstein, L. (2018). The dynamics of prominence profiles: from local computation to global patterns. Shaping Phonology University of Chicago Press
    • Iskarous, K. R. (2011). Articulatory-­-Acoustic Relations. The Oxford Handbook of Laboratory Phonology, Chapter 18.
    • Fowler, C., Iskarous, K. R. (2011). Speech Production and Perception. (Vol. 4) Wiley Handbook of Psychology.

    Journal Article

    • Iskarous, K., Cole, J., Steffman, J. (2024). A Minimal Dynamical Model of Intonation: Tone contrast, alignment, and scaling of American English pitch accents as emergent properties. Journal of Phonetics. Vol. 104 (101309) Journal Website
    • Alupay, J., Mather, J., Iskarous, K. (2023). A syntactic analysis of a complex motor action, the octopus arm ‘slap’. Marine Biology. Vol. 170 OpenAccess
    • Iskarous, K., Pouplier, M. (2022). Advancements of Phonetics in the 21 Century: A Critical Appraisal of Time and Space in Articulatory Phonology  . Journal of Phonetics.
    • Iskarous, K., Mather, J., Alupay, J. (2022). A Turing-based bimodal population code can specify Cephalopod chromatic skin displays. Arxiv. ArXiv
    • Iskarous, k. (2019). The Morphogenesis of Speech Gestures: From Local Computations to Global Patterns. Frontiers in Psychology. Vol. 12, pp. 11.
    • Abakarova, D., Iskarous, K., Noiray, A. (2018). Quantifying lingual coarticulation in German using mutual information: An ultrasound study. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Vol. 144 (2), pp. 897-907.
    • Iskarous, K., Kavitskaya, D. (2018). Sound change and the structure of synchronic variability: Phonetic and phonological factors in Slavic palatalization. Language. Vol. 94 (1), pp. 4383. PubMed Web Address
    • Iskarous, K. (2017). The relation between the continuous and the discrete: A note on the first principles of speech dynamics. Journal of Phonetics. Vol. 64, pp. 8-20.
    • Iskarous, K. (2016). Compatible dynamical models of environmental, sensory, and perceptual systems. Ecological Psychology.
    • Chen, W., Chang, Y., Iskarous, K. (2015). Vowel coarticulation: Landmark statistics measure vowel aggression. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
    • Noiray, A., Iskarous, K., Whalen, D. (2014). Variability in English vowels in comprable in articulation and acoustics. Laboratory Phonology. Vol. 5 (2), pp. 271-288.
    • Nam, H., Mooshammer, C., Iskarous, K., Whalen, D. (2013). Hearing Tongue Loops: Perceptual Sensitivity to Acoustic Signatures of Articulatory Dynamics. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
    • Iskarous, K., Mooshammer, C., Hoole, P., Recasens, D., Shadle, C. H., Saltzman, E., Whalen, D. H. (2013). The Coarticulation/Invariance Scale: Mutual Information as a measure of coarticulation resistance, motor synergy, and articulatory invariance. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
    • Lammert, A., Goldstein, L., Narayanan, S., Iskarous, K. (2012). Statistical methods for estimation of direct and differential kinematics of the vocal tract. Speech Communication. Corrected Proofs
    • Noiray, A., Menard, L., Iskarous, K. (2012). The Development of Motor Synergies in Children: Ultrasound and Acoustic Measurements. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
    • Iskarous, K., McDonough, J., Whalen, D. (2012). A gestural account of the velar fricative in Navajo. Laboratory Phonology. Vol. 3 (1)
    • McMicken, B., Von Berg, S., Iskarous, K. (2011). Acoustic and perceptual description of vowels in a speaker with aglossia. Communication Disorders Quarterly.
    • Iskarous, K. R., Shadle, C., Proctor, M. (2011). Articulatory-acoustic kinematics: The production of American English /s/. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Vol. 129 (2), pp. 944-954. PubMed Web Address
    • Iskarous, K. R., Kavitskaya, D. (2010). The Interaction between Contrast, Prosody, and Coproduction in the Structuring of Phonetic Variability. Journal of Phonetics. Vol. 38, pp. 625-639. PubMed Web Address
    • Iskarous, K. R. (2010). Vowel constrictions are recoverable from formants. Journal of Phonetics. Vol. 38, pp. 375-387. PubMed Web Address
    • Iskarous, K. R., Nam, H. (2010). Perception of articulatory dynamics from acoustic signatures. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Vol. 127, pp. 3717-­-3728. PubMed Web Address
    • Iskarous, K. R., Fowler, C., Whalen, D. H. (2010). Locus equations are an acoustic expression of articulator synergy. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Vol. 127, pp. 2021-­2032. PubMed Web Address
    • Proctor, M., Iskarous, K. R., Shadle, C. (2010). Pharyngeal articulation differences in voiced and voiceless fricatives. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Vol. 127, pp. 1507-1518. PubMed Web Address


    • Durante, Z., Mathur, L., Ye, E., Zhao, S., Ramdas, T., Iskarous, K. (2021). Speech Representations and Phoneme Classification for Preserving the Endangered Language of Ladin. Brno, Czech Republic. International Speech Communication Association’s Machine Learning in Speech and Language Processing (MLSLP 2021) (held with Interspeech 2021). ArXiv
    • Fulbright Award, Distinguished Fulbright Visiting Chair at The Center for Research on Language Mind, and Brain, McGill University, 2010-2011
  • Editorships and Editorial Boards

    • Editorial Board, Computer Speech and Language, 2017 – 2024
    • Associate Editor, Language, 01/01/2018 – 01/01/2021
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