Archive for Phonetics and phonology

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

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. […]

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (27)

English spelling reform

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (47)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (117)

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!

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (22)

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. :-)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (51)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (22)

Bonjourin

An interesting topic, presented [in French] in a fun way:

[If you have trouble with the Facebook embedding, try this YouTube version.]

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (16)

Real tone

In 'Tones for real", 2/5/2018, John McWhorter expresses his frustration as an American learner of Chinese: "How much must I attend to the damned tones in a sentence, as opposed to in citation, to really speak this language?"

As John very well knows (when he's not frustrated by the difficulties of learning a new language), his question has the same answer as the analogous question "How much must I attend to the damned consonants and vowels in a sentence, as opposed to in citation, to really speak this language?" Fluent native speakers almost never use standard citation forms in fluent speech — sometimes the fluent versions are reduced or assimilated or dissimilated versions of the citation forms, and something they're just variably different. This is partly because informal speech is variably non-standard, but mostly because of the complex effects of linguistic and communicative contexts on the phonetic realization of phonological categories.

Unfortunately for language learners, these complex effects (though in some sense "natural") are different in different languages and dialects/varieties, so you can't just use your normal phonetic habits and expect the results to sound right.  And we can use John's own pronunciation of English to illustrate some of these contextual effects.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Opamacare

One of the most widely noted aspects of last night's SOTU address was the president's pronunciation of "Obamacare" as if it were spelled "Opamacare":


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12)

Doubletalk challenge

Malia Wollan, "How to Speak Gibberish", NYT Magazine 1/5/2018:

Strive for linguistic plausibility. In 2014, Sara Maria Forsberg was a recent high-school graduate in Finland when she posted “What Languages Sound Like to Foreigners,” a video of herself speaking gibberish versions of 15 languages and dialects. Incorporate actual phonology to make a realistic-sounding gibberish. “Expose yourself to lots of different languages,” says Forsberg, now 23, who grew up speaking Finnish, Swedish and English.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (22)

Trump: To 'd or not to 'd?

Louise Radnofsky, "White House Disputes Trump Quote in Journal Interview: The Wall Street Journal stands by what it reported and releases audio of disputed portion of interview", WSJ 1/14/2018:

The White House disputed that President Donald Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Thursday that “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea,” saying that Mr. Trump had instead said “I’d probably have a very good relationship” with the North Korean leader.

The Journal stands by what it reported. The Journal and White House agreed before the interview that audiotape taken by White House officials and reporters would be used for transcription purposes only. After the White House challenged the Journal’s transcription and accuracy of the quote in a story, The Journal decided to release the relevant portion of the audio. The White House then released its audio version of the contested segment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)