Archive for Phonetics and phonology

Too hard to translate soup

From a menu in a restaurant in Oxford, Ohio:

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LRNLP 2018

On Monday, I'm pursuing the quixotic enterprise of talking to an NLP workshop about phonetics.

LRNLP ("Language Resources for NLP") 2018 is a workshop associated with COLING 2018 in Santa Fe NM.  My abstract:

Semi-automatic analysis of digital speech collections is transforming the science of phonetics, and offers interesting opportunities to researchers in other fields. Convenient search and analysis of large published bodies of recordings, transcripts, metadata, and annotations – as much as three or four orders of magnitude larger than a few decades ago – has created a trend towards “corpus phonetics,” whose benefits include greatly increased researcher productivity, better coverage of variation in speech patterns, and essential support for reproducibility.

The results of this work include insight into theoretical questions at all levels of linguistic analysis, as well as applications in fields as diverse as psychology, sociology, medicine, and poetics, as well as within phonetics itself. Crucially, analytic inputs include annotation or categorization of speech recordings along many dimensions, from words and phrase structures to discourse structures, speaker attitudes, speaker demographics, and speech styles. Among the many near-term opportunities in this area we can single out the possibility of improving parsing algorithms by incorporating features from speech as well as text.

Due to semester-initial commitments at Penn, I won't be able to stay for COLING, but I'm looking forward to an interesting day of presentations at the workshop.

 

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All the thyme in the world

A small recent experience with herb-related synchronicity reminded me of some very interesting phonetics research.

This all began a couple of weeks ago, when Larry Hyman and I were discussing what seasonings to use on meat to be grilled for dinner. I suggested thyme, and Larry reminded me of Suzanne Gahl's 2008 paper "Time and Thyme Are not Homophones: The Effect of Lemma Frequency on Word Durations in Spontaneous Speech":

Frequent words tend to shorten. But do homophone pairs, such as time and thyme, shorten equally if one member of the pair is frequent? This study reports an analysis of roughly 90,000 tokens of homophones in the Switchboard corpus of American English telephone conversations, in which it was found that high-frequency words like time are significantly shorter than their low-frequency homophones like thyme. The effect of lemma frequency persisted when local speaking rate, predictability from neighboring words, position relative to pauses, syntactic category, and orthographic regularity were brought under statistical control. These findings have theoretical implications for the locus of frequency information in linguistic competence and in models of language production, and for the role of articulatory routinization in shortening.

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My poster for the "Prosody Visualization Challenge"

See "PVC 1" (4/20/2018) for background.  I ran the 51 PVC 1 audio files through the scripts described in "Some visualizations of prosody" (10/23/2016), and ginned up a poster describing a few of the results.

Unfortunately poster-display technology doesn't yet include embedded audio playback, so this is an interactive version of the same content. [Note: the poster mistakenly describes example 1.b. as being from a Donald Trump interview, rather than being from his inaugural address.]

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Plosives take over the New York Times Styles section

Just last week, Caity Weaver was waxing rhapsodic about Kim Cattrall's alveolar plosives in the New York Times Styles section:

When Ms. Cattrall says the word “didn’t,” she respects each and every D and T.

Indeed, it could be said that alveolar plosives — the consonant sounds made by tapping the tip of the tongue to the alveolar ridge, just behind the teeth, as when hitting one’s D’s and T’s — are some of Ms. Cattrall’s best work. She is a careful enunciator who takes time to pronounce distinctly every element of a consonant cluster. Her diction might be described as intricate.

(More from Mark Liberman here.)

And now the plosives are back, in a Styles article by Jonah Engel Bromwich about IHOP's curious rebranding as "IHOb" (which it turns out has to do with burgers).

P and b are both bilabial plosives, meaning that your mouth does the same thing when you make the sound of both letters. The difference is that “b” is voiced, which for some people, makes it sound funny or strange coming at the end of a word.

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Audiobooks as birdsong

Wonkier but more accurate title: "Generating the distribution of audiobook speech segment durations".

In "Finch linguistics" 7/13/2011, I observed that the distribution of birdsong motif repetitions indicates that the underlying process is non-markovian in a particularly simple way: the probability of adding another motif to a zebra-finch song is not constant, but rather is an exponentially-decaying function of the number of previous motif repetitions.

And in "Modeling repetitive behavior" 5/15/2015 (and posts linked therein), I suggested that this is likely to be a shared property of several sorts of repetitive behavior, primate as well as avian.

A few days ago, as a result of a conversation with João Sedoc and Tianlin Liu, I decided to apply the same idea to the distribution of speech-segment durations in (a locally re-aligned version of) the LibriSpeech corpus.

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Kim Cattrall's alveolar plosives

Caity Weaver, "Kim Cattrall Can Talk to Me About Anything", NYT 6/6/2018:

Because I’m one of the youngest people alive (29), I was not old enough to be interested in a program with “sex” in the title when “Sex and the City” premiered on HBO in 1998, 20 years ago today.

Consequently, beyond the broadest outlines of the plot — there are four friends, having sex, and the city — the only detail I know firmly about the show is: Sa-MANh-thAH TAL-hkss hLike thIS.

If you have ever seen even one second of the actress Kim Cattrall in character as Samantha Jones, the vamp of “Sex and the City,” you know what I mean. From Ms. Cattrall’s larynx, the words of Samantha slunk and shimmied across the Manhattan of the early aughts, her voice sliding around ribald puns as if extra lubricated. […]

What you might not know is that Kim Cattrall’s real voice is as unlike the voice of Samantha Jones as a late October morning is unlike a Fourth of July high noon. I know this. I know this in my bones. I know this so well the knowing will be imprinted in the DNA of my descendants for a hundred generations — because I am unable to stop listening to the same four podcast episodes featuring Ms. Cattrall, over and over.

They’re very relaxing. […]

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Yanny vs. Laurel, pt. 2

Just when you thought you'd never have to worry about this vexing acoustic phenomenon again, "Yanny vs. Laurel: an analysis by Benjamin Munson" (5/16/18) and the comments thereto having carried out such a probing, exhaustive investigation, a 3:44 video (5/15/18) surfaces that attempts to explain it in a way that has not yet been mentioned:

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English spelling reform

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Yanny vs. Laurel: an analysis by Benjamin Munson

A peculiar audio clip has turned into a viral sensation, the acoustic equivalent of "the dress" — which, you'll recall, was either white and gold or blue and black, depending on your point of view. This time around, the dividing line is between "Yanny" and "Laurel."

The Yanny vs. Laurel perceptual puzzle has been fiercely debated (see coverage in the New York Times, the AtlanticVox, and CNET, for starters). Various linguists have chimed in on social media (notably, Suzy J. Styles and Rory Turnbull on Twitter). On Facebook, the University of Minnesota's Benjamin Munson shared a cogent analysis that he provided to an inquiring reporter, and he has graciously agreed to have an expanded version of his explainer published here as a guest post.

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On beyond the (International Phonetic) Alphabet

The International Phonetic Alphabet is a useful invention, which everyone interested in speech sounds should learn. But it's much less useful for actually doing phonetics than you might think. Whenever this comes up in discussion, I'm reminded of the Dr. Seuss classic On Beyond Zebra:

In the places I go there are things that I see
That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
I'm telling you this 'cause you're one of my friends.
My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!

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Ask LLOG: "friends" vs. "flense"

Query from reader RR:

Just trying to get unpaid labor from a phonetician here…

I've written a puzzle which involves swapping out one phoneme for another in various words. A couple of testsolvers have objected that "flense" doesn't become "friends" if you change the second phoneme; they insist they pronounce the D in "friends" (or don't have a D in the transition from N to Z in "flense", if you prefer).

Try as I might, I can't pronounce those two words such that they don't rhyme exactly, at least without sounding like an idiot. And like all people, I of course believe my self-judgment of phonetics is better than average. :-)

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The end of the line for Mandarin Phonetic Symbols?

Just as all school children in the PRC learn to read and write through Hanyu Pinyin ("Sinitic spelling"), the official romanization on the mainland, so do all school children in Taiwan learn to read and write with the aid of what is commonly referred to as "Bopomofo ㄅㄆㄇㄈ "), after the first four letters of this semisyllabary.  The system has many other names, including "Zhùyīn fúhào 注音符號" ("[Mandarin] Phonetic Symbols"), its current formal designation, as well as earlier names such as Guóyīn Zìmǔ 國音字母 ("Phonetic Alphabet of the National Language") and Zhùyīn Zìmǔ 註音字母 ( "Phonetic Alphabet" or "Annotated Phonetic Letters").  From the plethora of names, you can get an idea of what sort of system it is.  I usually think of it as a cross between an alphabet and a syllabary.

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