Emeritus Professor Denis Burnham


Research Professor of Speech and Language

Research Program: Speech and Language


During PhD and a junior faculty position at Monash (1975-1981) and then later at UNSW (1981-1999), I researched infant perceptual development. I rode the exciting new wave of infant visual perception research in the 1970s and then was one of the first Australian punks in the 1980s to jump onto the equally, if not more, exciting newer wave of infant speech perception.

From the mid-80s and throughout the 90s I embraced cross-disciplinary research, working with experimental phoneticians and speech scientists, and in the late 80s I added the use non-English languages (Thai and then many others) as a tool in order to probe speech perception development not only over ontogeny, but also as a product of the mini-laboratories (called  languages) so conveniently set up to allow natural manipulation of perceptual input.

After my appointment as inaugural Director of MARCS at UWS in 1999, my research focus on experiential and inherited influences in speech and language development continued to develop in – infant speech perception; auditory-visual (AV) speech perception; special speech registers, including ,infant-, pet-, foreigner-, computer-, and lover-directed speech; captions for the hearing impaired; tone languages – lexical tone perception, tone perception with cochlear implants, and speech-music interactions; human-machine interaction; speech corpus studies; and the role of infants' perceptual experience and expertise, in literacy development.

So too have my collaborations developed – with phoneticians, linguists, engineers, clinicians, computer scientists, music cognition researchers, creative artists, and neuroscientists, with the result of many emergent issues, paradigms, results, and friendships.

Research Interests

  • Speech Perception and Phonological Awareness in Infancy (Related DP Project: Origins of Phonology and Lexicon, OPAL)
  • Speech Perception in Infancy and Later Literacy (Related DP Projects: Origins of Phonology and Lexicon, OPAL; Seeds of Literacy I & Seeds of Literacy II)
  • Infant-Directed Special (Related DP Projects: Origins of Phonology and Lexicon, OPAL; Seeds of Literacy I & Seeds of Literacy II)
  • Auditory Visual Speech Perception (Related DP Project: 3-Dimensional Speech Perception)
  • Lexical Tone Perception (Related DP Project: 3-Dimensional Speech Perception)
  • Speech Corpus Studies (Related LP Projects: AusKidTalk: An Australian Children's Speech Corpus; The Big ASC (Australian Speech Corpus)

Qualifications and Honours

  • BA (Hons1, Psychology), University Medal, APS Prize in Psychology, Shell Prize in Arts, University of New England, 1974
  • PhD (The perception of moving objects by infants and the development of the object concept), Supervisor: Professor R. H. Day, Monash University (1980)
  • 2016: Excellence in Research Leadership Award, Western Sydney University
  • 2018: Fellow, International Speech Communication Assoc., Lifetime Award for 'contributions to auditory-visual speech perception, and to infant speech perception development’
  • 2018: Fellow, Academy of Social Sciences Australia


  • Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor, University of New South Wales, 1981-1999
  • Foundation Director, MARCS Institute for Brain Behaviour and Development
    - Director, Macarthur Auditory Research Centre Sydney, 1999-2001;
    - Director, MARCS Auditory Laboratories,  2002-2011;
    - Director, MARCS Institute, 2012-2014;
    - MARCS Research Professor, 2014-Present
  • Founder, MARCS BabyLab, 1999
  • MARCS Research Program Leader, Speech and Language (1999-2016)
  • President, Australasian Speech Science & Technology Association (ASSTA, 2002-2014)
  • Co-founder, Vice-Chair Auditory-Visual Speech Perception Association (AVISA, 1997-2013)
  • Co-Founder Asia-Pacific Babylab Constellation, 2016

Full Publications

For a full listing of my publications please see my Google Scholar page (opens in a new window).

Contact Denis

Phone+61 2 9772 6681
LocationWestern Sydney University Westmead campus