Archive for Phonetics and phonology

Vowel systems and musical sounds

[This is a guest post by H. Krishnapriyan]

Would you know of any ready reference that talks about vowels not getting articulated in specific places in the mouth, but rather being part of a system of vowels where the sound value of a vowel is determined by the vowel's relative position of articulation with respect to other vowels? I recall reading about this decades back, most likely, in a book by Henry Sweet.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Extreme simplification and phoneticization

Probably only Northeastern Chinese could understand.


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

"Crispy Rs"

Dan Nosowitz, "The ‘Crispy R’ and Why R Is the Weirdest Letter", Atlas Obscura 11/2/2023:

The crispy R is a phenomenon that some linguists had noticed, but which had gone largely unstudied—until the phrase “crispy R” was bestowed on it by Brian Michael Firkus, better known as Trixie Mattel, the winner of the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, and later popularized via TikTok. The sound is easier to point out than it is to either describe or reproduce. Some of the most frequent users of this unusual-sounding R include Kourtney Kardashian, Max Greenfield of New Girl fame, Stassi from Vanderpump Rules, and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. It sounds, to me at least, like a sort of elongated, curled sound, a laconic way of saying R.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)

"Calling all linguists"

Kevin Drum, "Calling all linguists", 10/20/2023:

You know what I'd like? I'd like a qualified linguist with a good ear to listen to a Joe Biden speech and report back.

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time doing this, and Biden's problem is that his speech really does sound a little slurred at times. My amateur conclusion was that he had problems enunciating his unvoiced fricatives, which suggests not a cognitive problem but only that his vocal cords have loosened with age.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

How cats purr

The sound of a cat's purr is a familiar one:

But this familiar sound raises at least two interesting biophysical questions.

In the first place, cats purr both while breathing out and breathing in, while most people can only produce voiced sounds (= laryngeal oscillations) while breathing out. What do cats have or do that we don't have or do?

In the second place, cats' purring is much lower in pitch than we'd expect given their size.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Inter-syllable intervals

This is a simple-minded follow-up to "New models of speech timing?" (9/11/2023). Before getting into fancy stochastic-point-process models, neural or otherwise, I though I'd start with something really basic: just the distribution of inter-syllable intervals, and its relationship to overall speech-segment and silence-segment durations.

For data, I took one-minute samples from 2006 TED talks by Al Gore and Tony Robbins.

I chose those two because they're listed here as exhibiting the slowest and fastest speaking rates in their (TED talks) sample. And I limited the samples to about one minute, because I'm interested in metrics that can apply to fairly short speech recordings, of the kind that are available in clinical applications such as this one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

New models of speech timing?

There are many statistics used to characterize timing patterns in speech, at various scales, with applications in many areas. Among them:

  1. Intervals  between phonetic events, by category and/or position and/or context;
  2. Overall measures of speaking rate (words per minute, syllables per minute), relative to total time or total speaking time (leaving out silences);
  3. Mean and standard deviation of speech segment and silence segment durations;
  4. …and so on…

There are many serious problems with these measures. Among the more obvious ones:

  1. The distributions are all far from "normal", and are often multi-modal;
  2. The timing patterns have important higher-order and contextual regularities;
  3. The timing patterns of segments/syllables/words and the timing patterns of phrases (i.e. speech/silence) and conversational turns are arguably (aspects of) the same thing at different time scales;
  4. Connections with patterns of many other types should also be included — phonetic and syllabic dynamics, pitch patterns, rhetorical and conversational structure, …

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

Ron's Princibles

Sunday's post on "Listless vessels" opened with this clip:

The movement has got to be
about what are you trying to achieve on behalf of the American people
and that's got to be based in principle
uh because if you're not rooted in principle
uh if all we are is listless vessels that just supposed to follow
you know whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning
that- that's not going to be a durable movement

And in the 30th comment, Yuval wrote

FWIW, both utterances of "principle" sound like 'princible' to me.

He's absolutely right — but what those two words "sound like" leaves an important theoretical (and practical) question open.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)


Comments (20)

Pronouncing literally

Commenting on yesterday's post "Semantic drift of the week", Nicholas wrote this about the pronunciation of different senses of the word battery:

In Australia and many parts of the UK, the pronunciation between both is significantly different.

"Batch-ry" holds the electrical charge.

Batt-ery is the criminal charge.

Pronouncing words like military, literally, and battery without making the "ch" sound (mili-chery') is a sign of an uneducated person..

Many other comments followed, discussing various pronunciations of these and similar words, along with their geographical, social, and lexical distributions.

This morning I'll ignore the interesting sociolinguistic aspects, except to note (as sociolinguists often remind us) that people's intuitions about when and why they say what are generally not very reliable, so that it's a good idea to check how people actually talk, including ourselves…

Instead I'll take a brief look at the phonetic issue under discussion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (38)

Language as a (nonviolent) weapon

From the movie "Jak rozpętałem drugą wojnę światową" (How I Unleashed World War II):

The initial Q&A:

Q: Name und Vorname?
A: Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

"Tortured syllables"?

"Language change (about to be?) in progress" (6/12/2023) linked to media commentary on divergent features of Northeast Philadelphia speech, e.g. "Side effect of the highway collapse: A perfect example of Northeast Philly hoagiemouth", Billy Penn 6/11/2-23. Some of the characterization was extremely evaluative:

The Billy Penn article was gentler and more descriptive:

You can really hear the accent in the elongated roundness of all the “ooo” words he speaks, the way he drags out the end of others, and how he softens each and every consonant (“phouen,” “tex messagessss,” “schreenshoz”).

But in fact, none of the commentary describes this man's speech in an accurate way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)

Old Sinitic "wheat" and Early Middle Sinitic "camel"

[This is a guest post by Chris Button]

OC uvulars tended to condition rounding (e.g OC q- becoming EMC kw-). In the case of ʁ-, we sometimes get m- (for a modern-day example, note how惟, which also had a ʁ- onset in Old Chinese, gives an m- reflex in Fuzhou Min). The classic example is 卯, where Pulleyblank once postulated ʁ- and Li Fang-kuei notes lack of evidence for a cluster, such as ml- or mr-, in its Tai loan. Unfortunately Li’s Tai evidence tends to either be ignored (e.g. 丑 hr- is often erroneously reconstructed with a nasal hn- based on misleading xiesheng evidence) or overly literally interpreted (e.g. 戌 χ- being treated as something like sm-).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)