Teenglish from England

Nathan Sanders Nathan.Sanders at WILLIAMS.EDU
Fri Sep 18 07:40:19 UTC 2009

On Sep 18, 2009, at 2:44 AM, Tom Zurinskas wrote:

> When you know that when a sound sounds like something else it
> actually IS the sound it sounds like then you'll understand.

As M Covarrubias pointed out, you're conflating two very distinct

(1) the physical reality: an articulation made in the speaker's vocal
tract (consisting ofspecificed position and shape of the tongue, lips,
velum, etc.), and the resulting sound wave that passes through that
articulation (vibrating molecules with fundamental frequencies,
harmonics, resonant frequencies, anti-formants, dampening, etc., as
determined by the vocal articulation)

(2) the auditory perception of that physical reality: the distortion
made by the listener's ear and brain when they process a sound wave
(there are a variety of relevant effects, such as perceptual averaging
of neighboring resonant frequencies, non-linear transformation due to
shape of the cochlea, the inherently logarithmic nature of perception
as explained by Weber's Law, and even additional physical warping of
the sound wave itself due to resonance and dampening within the ear

If you articulate [I] before [N], you will generate sound waves that,
when measured by a computer, will come out with the expected
frequencies for a nasalized [I] articulation, but when that sound wave
is heard and interpreted by an actual human being with a human ear and
human brain, it will often be perceived as [i] instead, because of how
we transform the acoustic signal while processing it.

Simply put, what we hear is not identical to what is said.


Nathan Sanders
Linguistics Program
Williams College

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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