What we do

The general objective of the lab is to further current understanding of the neurobiological systems that support speech and voice functions, as well as the impact of aging and experience-induced plasticity on these systems. Our research, fundamentally interdisciplinary, is anchored mainly in two broad fields of research: cognitive neuroscience, which is interested in the neurobiological mechanisms that support cognitive functions (e.g. perception, movements, language, memory, emotions), and rehabilitation sciences, which focuses on understanding the biological mechanisms that generate physical or mental disabilities, and those that lead to recovery of functions in various spheres, including movements, communication, emotions and cognition. Speech-language pathology is the discipline of rehabilitation that focuses on disorders affecting communication.

Our projects are organised into three interconnected research axes:  

  1. Neurobiology of language  
  2. Aging and brain plasticity  
  3. Development of research tools.


(1) Neurobiology of language

Our research focuses on understanding the nature of the neural mechanisms that support speech/voice production and perception. Our projects aim to understand how speech sounds, syllables and words are perceived and produced. We use multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (functional, structural, diffusion) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to study neural mechanisms involved in these processes. We are interested in understanding the relationship between brain structure (e.g., cortical thickness, grey matter volume, connectivity), brain function and speech abilities, in particular voice production, articulation, speech rate, and the ability to perceive quick or ambiguous sounds or in noise. We are also interested in understanding the interplay between perceptual and motor mechanisms for speech. 

Recent publications on the neurobiology of speech/voice functions:

  • Tremblay, P. & Dick, A. (2016) Broca and Wernicke are Dead, or Moving Past the Classic Model of Language Neurobiology. Brain & Language, 162, p. 60-71.
  • Deschamps, I., & Tremblay, P. (2014) Sequencing at the syllabic and supra-syllabic levels during speech perception: an fMRI study. Front. Hum. Neurosci. Juillet 8:492.
  • Dick, A. S., Bernal, B., & Tremblay, P. (2014). The Language Connectome: New Pathways, New Concepts. Neuroscientist. Mai 1;8, p. 356-366.
  • Dick, A. S., & Tremblay, P. (2012). Beyond the arcuate fasciculus: consensus and controversy in the connectional anatomy of language. Brain, 135(Pt 12), 3529-3550.

(2) Aging and Plasticity

Another important objective of the lab is to understand how the neurobiological systems that support speech and voice functions change with age, and to identify the impact that these changes have on speech/voice perception and production. Our work has shown important difficulties affecting articulation that are associated with changes in the structure of the brain (gray and white matter) in several regions including the premotor cortex as well as changes in neural functioning within several brain networks including the salience network, the sensorimotor system and the auditory-motor speech stream.

A major focus of our work is to understand how the brain can be modified by experience, including musical activities such as singing and playing a musical instrument, as well as non-invasive brain stimulation. These activities can have major impacts on the tree pillars of oral communication: language, cognition and emotion processing and expression, as well as on aging trajectories. These activities have a huge potential as health-promoting activities, but we still know too little about their long-lasting impact on the brain to use them efficiently as part of prevention or intervention strategies. It is therefore critical that we continue investigate how musical activities and brain stimulation can promote plasticity in the adult human brain.

Relevant publications on aging:

  • Tremblay, P. et al. (2018) Aging of speech production, from articulatory accuracy to motor timing. Psychology and Aging, 33(7):1022-1034. doi: 10.1037/pag0000306.
  • Tremblay, P., Perron, M., Deschamps, I., Kennedy-Higgins, D. Houde, J.-C., Dick, A.S., Descoteaux, M. (2018) The role of the arcuate and middle longitudinal fasciculi in speech perception in noise in adulthood. Human Brain Mapping. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24367.
  • Lortie, C.L., Thibeault, M., Guitton, M.J., Tremblay, P. (2018) Age differences in voice evaluation:  from auditory-perceptual evaluation to social interactions. JSLHR, 61, 227-24.
  • Tremblay P, Sato M, Deschamps I. (2017). Age-related differences in speech production: an fMRI study of healthy aging. Human Brain Mapping 38:2751–2771.

Relevant publications on plasticity:

  • Zumbansen, A., Tremblay, P. (In press) Music-based interventions for aphasia could act through a motor-speech mechanism: a systematic review and casecontrol analysis of published individual participant data. Aphasiology, DOI: 10.1080/02687038.2018.1506089
  • Tremblay, P., & Veilleux, J.-A. (2018). The impact of singing on human communication in aging: from protection to rehabilitation. In R. Heydon, D. Fancourt, & A. Cohen (Eds.), Routledge Companion to Interdisciplinary Studies in Singing. Volume III Well-being.: Taylor & Francis Books.
  • Lortie, C., Rivard, J., Thibeault, M., Tremblay, P. (2016) The moderating effect of frequent singing on voice aging. Journal of Voice. Janvier; 31(1), p.112.e1-112.e12.

(3) Development of research tools

Because our work focuses on oral language, we have created a large corpus of natural language production in Quebec French (SyllabO+) through several grants from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). From that corpus, we extracted all the sounds of the language, all the syllables and all the words and created databases that document the natural frequency of use of each unit. We are currently expending the project by adding a database of all the morphemes.

The corpus and all associated databases are accessible freely on our website. This information is useful for the creation of stimuli that are manipulated or controlled for frequency and other properties (e.g. co-occurrence frequencies, transition probabilities, mutual information). The project was also created top allow us to study the aging of spoken language.


Relevant publications:

  • Bédard, P., Audet, A-M, Drouin, P., Roy, J-P, Rivard, J., *Tremblay, P. (2016) SyllabO+: a new tool to investigate sublexical phenomena in Québec spoken French. Behavioral Research Methods, Volume 49, Issue 5, p 1852–1863.
  • Tremblay, P., Baroni, M., & Hasson, U. (2012). Processing of speech and non-speech sounds in the supratemporal plane: Auditory input preference does not predict sensitivity to statistical structure.Neuroimage, 66C, 318-332.
  • Tremblay, P., Deschamps, I., Baroni, M., Hasson, U. (2016) Neural bases of syllable frequency effects in speech perception and production. NeuroImage, 136(1),106–121.
  • Deschamps I, Hasson U, *Tremblay P. (2016). Cortical thickness in perisylvian regions correlates with individuals’ sensitivity to statistical regularities in auditory sequences. PLOS ONE, 11(2): e0149375.


Project description

(1) Effects of choir singing and a music playing on communication and brain health in aging.

Description : This project aims to compare the impact of choir singing and playing a musical instrument on the functional and structural aging of the brain, as well as on the three pillars of communication : language, cognition and emotional processes. 50 musicians, 50 singers and 50 people not practicing any musical activity will be recruited for the project.
Status : Under development
Axes : 2, 1
Ethical approval number : 1733-2019
Team : Élisabeth Maillard, Gabriel Frazer-Mckee, Sophie Simard, Pascale Tremblay, Josée Vaillancourt, Johanna-Pascale Roy, Anna Marczyk Buklaha, Maxime Descoteaux, Philip Jackson, Virginia Penhune, Catherine Fontaine-Lavallée
Past contributors: Agathe Porssut
Funding: FRQNT
Other sources of funding : FRQS (career award to P. Tremblay), MITACS (summer internship award)
Data available: upon publication

(2) Effects of choir singing on the brain in aging.

Description : This project aims to understand how choir singing can positively affect brain aging as well as the three pillars of communication: language, cognition and emotional processes.
Status : Data analysis
Axes : 2, 1
Ethical approval number : 192-2017
Current team : Pascale Tremblay, Josée Vaillancourt, Johanna-Pascale Roy, Maxime Perron, Anna Marczyk Buklaha.
Past contributors: Catherine Denis, Philip Jackson, Éloi Gagnon, Anne-Christine Bricaud, Émilie Belley, Julie Poulin, Lisa-Marie Deschênes, Valérie Brisson.
Funding: Drummond Foundation
Other sources of funding : MITACS (summer internship award), NSERC, SSHRC, FRQS (career award to P. Tremblay)
Data available: upon publication

(3) Effects of choir singing on speech perception during aging.

Description : This project aims to understand how choir singing can positively affect structural brain aging and speech perception in noise in aging. The 85 people who participated to the MRI study of project 192-2017 will be invited to participate in this project.
Status : Under development
Axis : 2, 1
Ethical approval number : 1495-2018
Team : Maxime Perron, Pascale Tremblay, Josée Vaillancourt, Catherine Fontaine-Lavallée
Funding: Fondation Drummond
Other sources of funding : NSERC, SSHRC, FRQS (career award to P. Tremblay)
Data available: upon publication

(4) Using brain stimulation to improve speech perception in noise.

Description :This project aims to understand how brain stimulation can modify speech perception in noise in aging.
Status : Under development.
Axis : 2, 1
Ethical approval number : 1495-2018
Team : Valérie Brisson, Pascale Tremblay, Catherine Fontaine-Lavallée
Past contributors: Audrey Desjardins, Maxime Perron
Funding: NSERC
Other sources of funding : Faculté de médecine de l’Université Laval (master award to Valérie Brisson), Centre de recherche CERVO (master award to Valérie Brisson), Département de réadaptation de l'Univerité laval (master award to Valérie Brisson), FRQS (career award to P. Tremblay)
Data available: upon publication

(5) Understanding the effects of aging on articulation.

Description : This project aims to understand how aging affects speech production. 85 people aged 20 to 93 years old performed different speech production tasks. We spent several months analyzing their answers, which were transcribed and analysis in terms of errors, speed and duration. Statistical analysis are currently are now completed and the article is published.
Status : Terminated (published) 
Axis : 2
Ethical approval number : 294-2012
Team : Pascale Tremblay, Julie Poulin, Catherine Denis, Vincent Martel-Sauvageau.
Funding: FRQSC
Other sources of funding : SSHRC, FRQS (career award to P. Tremblay)
Associated publication : Tremblay et al (2019) Experimental gerontologist.
Data available:  https://doi.org/10.5683/SP2/RNBELU, Scholars Portal Dataverse, V1

(6) Neurobiology of speech production study using brain stimulation

Description :This project aims to better understand how the brain plans and produces spoken language in healthy adults. 25 adults aged 18 to 55 years old performed a speech production tasks. We spent several months transcribing and analyzing their responses in terms of errors, speed and response duration. Statistical analyses are terminated. The project was closed because of failure to find an effect of stimulation.
Status : Terminated
Axis : 1
Ethical approval number : 165-2016
Team : Pascale Tremblay, Julie Poulin, Catherine Denis
Funding: NSERC
Other sources of funding : FRQS (career award to P. Tremblay)
Data available: N/A

(7) Study of speech perception in aging

Description : This project’s objective is to understand how brain aging affects speech perception in noise. 88 participants from 19 to 87 years old were evaluated for hearing sensitivity, auditory attention and speech perception in noise. 30 of these participants also underwent multimodal MRI brain imaging. Part of the data (white matter decline) was recently published whereas other analyses are currently in progress to reveal the impact of cognition decline on speech perception decline, as well as to reveal how decline in brain functioning can impact speech perception.
Status : Article submitted, revisions underway.
Axes : 2, 1
Ethical approval number : Projet 360-2014
Team : Pascale Tremblay, Isabelle Deschamps, Valérie Brisson.
Funding: RBIQ (Réseau de bio-imagerie du QUébec)
Other sources of funding : FRQS (career award to P. Tremblay)
Publication associée : Tremblay et al. 2018 HBM
Data available: upon publication

(8) SyllabO+

Description : SyllabO+ is a continuously evolving project that started in 2012. In the heart of the project is a corpus of 225 adult native speakers of Quebec French that we recorded in formal contexts (e.g. courses) and informal contexts (casual conversations). From those records, all sounds (phones), syllables and words were extracted and entered into several different databases, which provide information about the use of each unit (e.g. the frequency of use of each syllable). These databases are available on our website http://speechneurolab.ca/fr/syllabo. Funding was recently awarded from SSHRC to add a new database: the morphemes.
Status : Data analysis
Axis : 3
Ethical approval number : 356-2014
Team : Pascale Tremblay, Pascale Bédard, Noémie Auclair, Alexandra Lavoie, Catherine Savard, Émilie Belley.
Funding: SSHRC
Other sources of funding : FRQS (career award to P. Tremblay)
Other sources of funding : FRQS (career award to P. Tremblay
Data available: the databases are available here: http://syllabo.speechneurolab.ca The corpus is available for non-commercial purposes on demand (email Pascale Tremblay).


(9) Studying emotion and pain recognition in avatars: influence of avatars and human features

Description : This project includes two studyes as well as several pilot studies aiming at (1) creating and validating emotional avatars and (2) examining the ffect of age and sex of the avatar and participant on the ability to recognize facila expressions in avatars

Axis : 2
Ethical approval number: 2019-1757
Team : Chloé Gingras, Philip Jackson, Pascale Tremblay
Funding: SSHRC
Other sources of funding: FRQS (doctoral award to Chloé Gingras and career award to P. Tremblay)


Nos travaux sont financés par les gouvernements du Québec et du Canada, plus précisément par:

The Laboratory is funded by both provincial and federal governmental agencies including:


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC, Discovery Grant: “Neural bases of speech production: contribution of common action control mechanisms”; 2013-2018)



The fonds de la Recherche du Québec en Santé (FRQ-S), fonds de soutien aux nouveaux chercheurs : «Mécanismes neurologiques de vieillissement et leurs impacts sur la communication verbale » ; 2013-2016)




The fonds de la Recherche du Québec Société et Culture  (FRQ-SC, new researcher award: « De la production de la parole au cours du vieillissement normal : une étude des liens entre l’articulation, les mouvements du visage et des mains 2012-2015)




The Canadian foundation for innovation (FCI, Leaders Opportunity Fund #31408: “The neurobiology of Verbal Communication in Adulthood: From Behaviour to Brain Mechanisms” 2012-2015)




The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC, Insight Development Grants: “Statistical information processing mechanisms across auditory domains: behavioural and electrophysiological evidence” ; 2013-2015)




RBIQ standard

Fonds de la Recherche du Québec en Santé (FRQ-S) – Réseaux de recherche thématiques. Dossier 5886: "Functional and structural brain aging and its effect on speech production"