onsdag 28 mars 2012

Under the skin pt 2 - Speech apparatus

We continue to look under the skin. If you wanna see the previous post on BRAINS and illusions of body ownership go here. This post is about the speech apparatus and contains a short introduction to phonetic symbols. If you wanna see some x-rays of trumpet blowing go here.

"I want a doctor to take a picture so
I can look at you from inside aswell"

The Speech Apparatus

Female subject saying ''både'' (eng: both)
Pictures from Christine Ericsdotter's website
Female subject exploring her vocal tract
Pictures from Christine Ericsdotter's website
Male subject saying ''pion''[piun]
Pictures from Christine Ericsdotter's website
 These images are from Christine Ericsdotter's website, go there to learn more about the project! I believe they have been modified slightly to accentuate lines separating different "soft parts".

Christine Ericsdotter

Christine Ericsdotter was one of my teachers in my first years of linguistics. She was a wonderful teacher and I wish I could take courses with her again. She is a phonetician which means that she is interested in speech communication - aspects of production and perception of speech, how humans create and register different language sounds and speech.
The study behind the images above
Christine and many others from the phonetics section of the department of linguistics at Stockholm university have been involved in a study that took place at the Danderyd hospital. They did x-rays of people when the spoke. The aim was to learn more about dental and retroflexive stops (different types of consonants) and their variation in different vowel contexts.

The subjects were subjected to as little radiation as possible, all appropriate safety requirements were met. The radiation dose was smaller than that of a typical visit to the dentist.

She's uploaded a few pictures from this study on her website. I love looking at them, suddenly everything I've learned about the vocal tract becomes so much more concrete. Please read more about the project here.

The vocal tract

 When we articulate we make all kinds of complex movements with our vocal tracts. We do not only make use of the tongue, as you can see from the images above. We make use of the velum (the thing in the back that closes the passage to the nose in the third image above), the lips, the vocal folds (way low in the throat) and much more.

It is not an easy task to master all of these tiny little muscles and produce the right sounds, yet it takes us so little time to acquire! Wonders of the mind and body. Take a look at the images above again- they represent one word per picture. We do that everyday, all the time - and way faster than that. Isn't it fascinating?

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an attempt to represent the sounds we make. Those representations will always be averages, means and estimations. Each speaker has a distinct acoustic environment and will sound different. When we want to modify a sound to fit a sound in a certain language in greater detail there is an range of different small extra symbols we can add to further specify the sound.

The IPA is not a collection of arbitrary sounds, there is a system to it. If you studied the IPA-chart and learned the logic behind it it would make way more sense. Unfortunately teachers in most schools just give out a list of crazy symbols and poor explanations of how it all hangs together. This often results in a quite useless exercise to try and remember weird symbols and their pronunciation without a understanding of how sounds of languages work.

English alphabet ≠ IPA 
Please keep in mind that even though IPA uses latin script this does not mean that the symbols are pronounced the same way that the letters of the english, swedish, french, etc alpabeth. Never forget that!
For example:
<through> - [θɹu]
<kidney> - [ˈkɪdni]
<scruffy> - [ˈskɹʌ.fi]
<diving> -

Also, there is great variation between individuals and groups of individuals (dialects etc). A certain sound may be produced different by different speakers. A phonetic transcription aims to capture this in great detail. A phonological transcription does not represent this variation but uses one symbol (phoneme) to represent a group of sounds (phones) that are used in exactly the same context.
An example would be the many different ways of producing an "r"-sound in Swedish. In a phonetic transcription they would all be different but in a phonological they would be represented with the same symbol.

International Phonetic Alpabeth-guide in swedish
If you are Swedish and you wanna learn more about the International Phonetic Alphabet or just language and sounds in general, then I recommend this folder that I've created. It's a basic introduction to how sounds are treated in linguistics. There are a few minor mistakes in it, I'm sorry about that.

Vowel chart
The folder and the IPA-chart contains a vowel chart. The vowel chart is meant to be used as a representation of how phonetic symbols representing vowels relate to each other.
First of all: image the vowel chart as actually representing the vocal tract like this:
Vowel chart and it's relation to the vocal tract. Cred: Mikael Parkvall
The location of the phonetic symbols represents where the tongue is positioned. If you want to see examples of how place of articulation plays a role than watch these videos of trumpet blowing and pay attention to where the toungue is when the notes are produced.
Then we go on to place out some more characters on our little map like so:

The vowels are arranged in pairs, the right is pronounced with rounded lips and the left with unrounded lips.

One of the things Christine taught me
Christine taught me a little phrase in Swedish that can help one remember how the four front unrounded vowels and the four back rounded are pronounced: "vi ber fem man dra bort vårt bord"

See? Isn't it clever? I think it is terribly clever. 

Bye bye now,
See you around hottie!
Ericsdotter, C. (1999): Modeling lingual coarticulation in coronal stops. Master Thesis in Phonetics, Department of Linguistics, Stockholm University & Deparment of Speech, Music and Hearing, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Spring 1999.

p.s. Om du är grundkursstudent i lingvistik och fann "vi ber fem man dra bort vårt bord" hjälpsamt kan jag också tipsa om en minnesregel för Hocketts 13 designdrag för naturligt mänskligt talat språk: GRÅTT TUSS SUPA.
  • Godtycklighet
  • Röst-hörsel-kanal
  • Åtskildhet (aka diskrethet)
  • Tvånivåsystem
  • Traditionell överföring
  • Total återkoppling
  • Utväxlingsbarhet
  • Semanticitet
  • Specialisering
  • Snabbt avtagande
  • Utsänd överföring med lokaliserad mottagning
  • Produktivitet
  • Avlägensenhet (displacement)
Jupp, jag ska bli seriös lingvist jag :)!

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