Kai Alter

Senior Research Fellow
A photograph of Kai Alter



I am mostly interested in the brain responses during auditory processing in healthy subjects and patients after brain damage.

I am trying to find out how different brain areas interact and how affective and prosodic information is processed.






Research Interests:

Cognitive Neuroscience:

  • processing of prosodic and phonological information
  • processing of emotional sounds
  • processing of laughter
  • language processing in normal and clinical populations
  • evolution of emotional sound processing

Auditory processing:

  • the biological pathways of sound processing with respect to communication purposes
  • developmental aspects of speech & language processing
  • speech segmentation on phrase and discourse level using ERPs and fMRI
  • processing of durational, tonal, and spectral properties
  • auditory working memory


Research topics currently under investigation:

- brain reactions to morpho-phonological information encoded in vowels; with Prof Aditi Lahiri, Drs Sandra Kotzor and Beinan Zhou.
- processing of fronted fricatives in English; with Prof Aditi Lahiri, Drs Sandra Kotzor and Beinan Zhou.
- brain responses to intonation and pragmatics; with Dr Brechtje Post, Cambridge.
- understanding sarcasm; with Dr Rachel Mitchell, King’s College and Prof Peter Woodruff, Quatar.
- early brain responses to Mandarin Chinese tones; with Dr Jinxing Yue, Profs Roelien Bastiaanse and David Howard (Groningen, Newcastle).
- processing of laughter; with Prof Dirk Wildgruber, Tuebingen.
- auditory working memory; with Prof James Law, Newcastle University.
- early development of speech processing; with Profs Sonja Frota and Marina Vigario, and Dr Barbara Leone Fernandez, Laboratorio de Fonetica & Lisbon Baby Lab, Lisbon University.



2002:   Habilitation, University of Leipzig
1994:   PhD Linguistics, University of Leipzig
1993:   Postgrad Phonetics, University of Lausanne
1993:   Postgrad Linguistics, University of Geneva
1990:   Master Linguistics, University of Leipzig
1990:   Masters French Linguistics
1988:   Master Russian Language, University of Belgorod


Current appointments:

Senior Lecturer in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience at Newcastle University, Institute of Neuroscience

Visiting Senior Research Fellow at University of Oxford, Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, Language & Brain Lab

Since 03-Mar-17: Associate Member of Laboratorio de Fonetica & Lisbon Baby Lab, Dept. Linguistica, Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Lisboa


Previous appointments:

2002 - 2004:      Associate Professor (German C3) Neurocognition of Prosody,
                        Max-Plank Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig
1999 - 2001:      Assistant Professor (German C2) Neurocognition of Prosody,
                        Max-Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig
1997 - 1999:      Senior Research Associate Neurocognition of Language Processing,
                        Max-Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig
1995 - 1997:      Senior Research Associate Natural Language Processing,
                        Austrian Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Vienna
1994 - 1995:      Research Associate, Phonology Group, Research Center for Linguistics,
                        Typology and University of Berlin
1990 - 1993:      PhD student in Linguistics, University of Leipzig



German, French, English: fluent
Russian (needs reanimation)
Master in Italian (needs revival)
Nahuatl (structural knowledge)

Recent publications:

I have a track record of about 110 publications, including 55 Journal papers, and my h-index is 35. My work has been cited more than 4000 times.

Jinxing Yue, Kai Alter, David Howard & Roelien Bastiaanse (2017): Early access to lexical-level phonological representations of Mandarin word-forms: evidence from auditory N1 habituation, Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1080/23273798.2017.1290261

Alter K. Le rire comme element essential de la communication sociale. In: Courtet,C; Besson,M; Lavocat,F; Viala,A, (eds.). Mises en intrigues. Paris: CNRS Editions, 2016, pp.199-210.

Post B, Alter K. Neural correlates of categorical linguistic and gradient paralinguistic intonation. In: 18th ICPhS 2015 International Conference on Phonetic Sciences. 2015, Glasgow: University of Glasgow. (selected for oral presentation).

Galán F, Baker MR, Alter K, Baker SN. (2015) Degraded EEG decoding of wrist movements in absence of kinaesthetic feedback. Human Brain Mapping. 2015 Feb;36(2):643-54.

Henrich K, Alter K, Wiese R, Domahs U. (2014) The relevance of rhythmical alternation in language processing: an ERP study on English compounds. Brain and Language 136:19-30.

Attaheri A, Kikuchi Y, Milne AE, Wilson B, Alter K, Petkov CI. EEG potentials associated with artificial grammar learning in the primate brain. Brain and Language, 2015 Sep; 148:74-80.


Most important five publications:

Yue J, Bastiaanse R, Alter K. (2014) Cortical plasticity induced by rapid Hebbian learning of novel tonal word-forms: Evidence from mismatch negativity. Brain and Language. 139C:10-22.

Roll M, Lindgren M, Alter K, Horne M. Time-driven effects on parsing during reading. Brain and Language 2012 Jun; 121(3):267-72.

Szameitat DP, Darwin CJ, Szameitat AJ, Wildgruber D, Alter K. Formant characteristics of human laughter. J Voice 2011 Jan; 25(1):32-7.

Ischebeck AK, Friederici AD, Alter K. Processing prosodic boundaries in natural and hummed speech: an FMRI study. Cereb Cortex. 2008 Mar; 18(3):541-52.

Steinhauer K, Alter K, Friederici AD. Brain potentials indicate immediate use of prosodic cues in natural speech processing. Nature Neuroscience 1999, 2(2), 191-196.