Acoustic Phonetics

Allard Jongman

in Linguistics

ISBN: 9780199772810
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
Acoustic Phonetics

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Acoustic phonetics is the study of the acoustic characteristics of speech, including an analysis and description of speech in terms of its physical properties, such as frequency, intensity, and duration. Descriptions of speech sounds in these terms date back as far as 1830 (Willis), but the invention of the sound spectrograph (1945) was the major technological breakthrough that made the analysis and visualization of the speech signal possible. Subsequent developments in digital signal processing, most notably the discrete Fourier transform, have made it possible to conduct all acoustic analyses with a basic microcomputer. Rousselot (b. 1846–d. 1924) is widely regarded as the “father of experimental phonetics.” Rousselot applied the kymograph to the study of speech. The kymograph, invented in the 1840s by Ludwig, was originally used for measuring blood pressure and other physiological processes. For speech, the kymograph consisted of a rotating drum covered with paper coated with soot; speakers spoke into a rubber tube and the sound vibrations were captured by a stylus that registered the variations in air pressure, from which duration, intensity, and pitch could be measured. Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877 was of crucial importance since it was the first device that allowed the recording and reproduction of sound. This invention meant that speech was no longer a fleeting event but could be repeatedly heard and analyzed. A number of researchers developed additional devices to visualize and analyze the sound waveforms, including Hermann, Scripture, and Verner. Although the speech waveform (oscillogram) is the basis of all acoustic speech research, it is rarely used as a source. One important reason is that it is “too rich” since it contains information about frequency, intensity, and phase of the signal components, while human perception disregards the latter. Hence, the spectrogram provides a better representation.

Article.  7913 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Anthropological Linguistics ; Language Families ; Psycholinguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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