Sandy Fleming sandy at FLEIMIN.DEMON.CO.UK
Tue Sep 23 12:30:07 UTC 2003

Hi Neil and all!

> Actually, the tongue is placed between the teeth for the "th" sound--not
> turned up like for the "L" sound. Incidentally, there are two different
> sounds for "th" although both look the same on the lips. A voiced "th" as
> in "those" and a voiceless "th" as in "think". We'd need a way of
> showing this.

The tongue seems very slightly turned up when I say it. I pronounce some
words with the "l" turned up, others with it flat. It may be my Scottish
accent  :)

Yes, for the "those"-type sound we would just need the "~" to show the vocal
chords vibrating.

> One of the big problems is that several sounds/shapes look
> exactly the same
> on a person's lips but they are different if you can hear them. For
> example, the sounds of "P", "B" and "M" all look identical, so do "F" and
> "V" so you can only separate them by their sounds--not their mouth shape.
> We call such sounds homophenes.

Again, the difference can be shown by vocal chords vibrating, as for the "n"
and "a" sounds in my diagram.

> English is a VERY ambiguous language in this respect. For example, the
> words shoot, June, shoes, juice, Jews and choose all look identical on a
> person's lips. So do the words sheep, cheap and jeep. So do the
> words quiet
> and white--and on and on it goes. There are hundreds and hundreds of
> identically shaped words that sound different.

But these are all physically different, so a movement notation should be
able to show it. The difference between "juice" and "Jews" is in the
vibration of the vocal chords again for the last consonant sound, and length
of the vowel, and the difference between the first consonant of "cheap" and
"jeep" is again vocal chord vibration, while the difference between "sheep"
and "cheap" is the initial position of the tongue.

I admit, though, that the differences are more subtle than the movements in
SignWriting and would take some linguistic training to be able to
distinguish. So while it's not good for an actual writing system, it might
be useful to linguists as an alternative to the IPA alphabet, and may be
better for experessing how sounds are really produced in different languages
and dialects, rather than depending on knowing the hundreds of arbitrary
symbols that the current IPA alphabet has grown into.

> I'd be interested if someone has a solution of how to overcome
> this problem
> in a writing notation.

I think all the physical phenomena in oral language production are well
understood these days and could be translated into a movement notation along
the lines I'm suggesting.

> One of these years I'll get around to finishing my book on speechreading
> called "We Hear With Our Eyes--the Art and Science of Speechreading." In
> the meantime, I have a few other books I need to finish before this one.

If it would give me 100% ability to understand spoken languages without
being able to hear, then from my point of view, no other book anybody's
writing could possibly be more important!


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