Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Total word nerd

I went to the library the other day and was seduced by a book called How Language Works by David Crystal. The first portion of the book deals with how the body and mouth are used to produce speech. The part that I've gotten into now is more interesting. Here's a piece that really made me stop and think:

"In one study, acoustically distored words were presented to listeners both in isolation and in context. The context helped the listeners to identify words much more accurately. In another study, single words were cut out of a tape recording of clear, intelligible, continuous speech. When these were played to listeners, there was great difficulty in making a correct identification. Normal speech proves to be so rapidly and infomally articulated that in fact over half the words cannot be recognized in isolation - and yet we have little trouble following it, and can repeat whole sentences accurately."

It amazes me that the mid can hear things that aren't there. It just goes to show that context is so important. The book goes on to say:

"Another feature of continuous speech perception is that we 'hear' sounds to be present, even if they are not. In one experiment, sentences were recorded with a sound electronically removed, and replaced with a cough or buzz. Most listeners, when asked if there were any sounds missing, said no; and even if told that a substitution had been made, most were unable to locate it. In another study, people listened to one of four sentences, in which a sound (marked *) had been replaced by a cough, and were asked to identify a word which ended in eel.

It was found that the *eel was on the axle.
It was found that the *eel was on the shoe.
It was found that the *eel was on the orange.
It was found that the *eel was on the table.

People responded with wheel, heel, peel, and meal respectively, demonstrating the influence of grammar and meaning in perceptual decision-making."

I find this all so interesting. This is from the book that prompted the idea of going back to school. Now you see how interesting language is to me. Or maybe you don't. Maybe you're sitting there with eyes glazed over and drool running out of your mouth.

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