6. The sounds of silence

(The videos convey and demonstrate much of this chapter. Also see my notes on speech production "two dogs.")

speech production/perception

speech is special

"the brain can hear speech content in sounds that have only the remotest resemblance to speech..159" For a demo of this, go to my homepage under language and visit Haskins Lab. I also played these in class, 3/14.

"all speech is an illusion"

"We simply hallucinate word boundaries when we reach the edge of a stretch of sound that matches some entry in our mental lexicon. 159-160"

"speech perception..biological miracle"

"to take advantage of the auditory medium, speech has to overcome the problem that the ear is a narrow informational bottleneck...ten to fifteen phonemes per second....., each moment of sound must have several phonemes packed into it.. 161"

"phonemes are a different kind of linguistic object"

"the meaning of dog is not predictable from the meaning of d....a finite inventory of phonemes is sampled and permuted to define words....

speech anatomy, articulation & acoustics

164 (see my "pitch lab" notes too, also video)

voicing 164 &171

harmonics 165

Natural objects-- when energized -- vibrate at a fundamental frequency (ff) and the harmonics of the ff. Harmonics are whole number multiples of the ff. A male ff of 100 Hz can have harmonics at 200, 300, and so on up to over 4000Hz. Not all of these harmonics will have significant energy and indeed the variation in energy at each harmonic is how different speech sounds are produced. "…it is the raw material that the rest of the vocal tract sculps into vowels and consonants."

resonance 165-6

(Formants are bands of resonating energy. They show up as dark bands on spectrograms.)

"the brain interprets the different patterns of amplification and filtering as different vowels. 166"

"the nose is another resonant chamber 169" [Do his examples! Observe your velum's function.]

types of sounds

"The total inventory of phonemes across the world numbers in the thousands, but they are all defined as combinations of the six speech organs and their shapes and motions..171


stop consonants

"The sounds of silence"--consonants differ in 'obstruency' --the degree to which they impede the flow of air ..169


the IPA

The international phonetic alphabet was designed to enable linguists to write down the relevant movements for any language. See their website.

"the sound pattern of a language" 173

possible syllables and possible words

phonological rules

"The assemblies of phonemes in the morphemes and words stored in memory undergo a series of adjustments before they are actually articulated as sounds,...these adjustments give further definition to the souind pattern of a language. 175

"...phonological rules "see" features, not phonemes, and they adjust features, not phonemes...179"

"By making speech patterns predictable, they add redundancy to a language..181"

co-articulation (video & class examples too)

"phonemes also sound very different depending on how much they are stressed and how quickly they are spoken...each phoneme;s sound signature is colored by the phonemes that come before and after...consonant and vowels are being signaled simultaneously..181-2"

(e.g.JL, compare "constrain" & "construe")

bottom up--top down perception

"top down theory of speech perception....confirms the relativist philosophy that we hear what we expect...ultimately that we are not in direct contact with any objective reality...185"

(Hence Pinker cannot be expected to like this idea--for good reasons!)

"though we may call upon high-level conceptual knowledge in noisy or degraded circumstances...our brains seem designed to squeeze every last drop of phonetic information out of the sound itself....it is a sense, something that connects us to the world, and not just a form of suggestibility. 185"

'laid mondegreen'! 186 (or "Now pinshitting for Kaline..")

writing reform desirable?

"Obviously alphabets do not, and should not correspond to sounds; at best they correspond to phonemes in the mental lexicon..the actual sounds are different in different contexts, so true phonetic spelling would only obscure their underlying identity..190"

"electric-electricity"-"..the similar spellings, despite differences in pronunciation, are there fora reason: they identifying two wards as being based on the same root morpheme...sometimes a sequence of letters is specific to a morpheme...a morphemic writing system is more useful than you might think....191"

(See Charles Read and others on "invented spelling.")

JL There’s lots of controversy about alphabets, "phonics" in teaching reading, and the role of "top-down" guessing both actual and in reading instruction. Its my impression poorer readers tend to do more guessing than called for.