23rd Sep 2012

Ultrasound as a Linguistic Tool

Ultrasound isn’t just a technique to image fetuses: it’s also helping to preserve dying languages. 473 out of 6,909 living languages are classified as nearly extinct, with a further 3,000 classified as endangered—and it’s crucial to preserve them. Languages not only embody human history and local knowledge, but can also help cognitive scientists study how the brain learns, stores information, and communicates. The key to preservation is documentation, and since many endangered languages are solely spoken, linguists must use recording technology—to record both the sound and the physics behind the sound. MRI, X-Ray, and electric probes have all been tried, but were either inconvenient, too slow to keep up with speech, or too problematic over prolonged periods. Ultrasound, however, has been more successful. An unobtrusive cylindrical probe, held under the chin, is able to image the physical movements of the tongue, documenting some of the fastest sounds in human speech—such as the click consonants of rare African languages. Ultrasound has helped to organise the clicks through their biophysical aspects: the airstream through the mouth, the mouth’s constriction, and articulation. In turn, this has allowed the consonants to be properly classified within the International Phonetic Alphabet—a universal catalogue system of the sounds in the world’s languages—and therefore allowed linguists to study the relationship between sounds, and in turn, better understand people through their languages.

(Image Credit: 1, 2)

This post has 411 notes
  1. this-we-imagine reblogged this from sciencesoup
  2. palefiend reblogged this from anthrocentric
  3. anthrocentric reblogged this from commonunity
  4. anonbach reblogged this from sciencesoup
  5. porsenna reblogged this from sciencesoup
  6. hasthemilkgonebad reblogged this from sciencesoup
  7. alsoveryeevil reblogged this from sciencesoup
  8. papahojo reblogged this from sciencesoup
  9. bagofmints reblogged this from shrikestrike
  10. shrikestrike reblogged this from snarkandbitchery
  11. wincenworks reblogged this from nothopeless
  12. nothopeless reblogged this from sciencesoup
  13. berrffeerrdd reblogged this from sciencesoup
  14. dodalamothafucka reblogged this from sciencesoup
  15. shadetreader reblogged this from sciencesoup
  16. needthestorm reblogged this from lyssamae
  17. ch3ls0ir reblogged this from mirandaadria
  18. chloek3 reblogged this from miniprof
  19. snarkandbitchery reblogged this from sciencesoup
  20. connieraffertyboobs reblogged this from summertimev
  21. summertimev reblogged this from miniprof
  22. armedwithapairofshoes reblogged this from 13213152
  23. apackofthieves reblogged this from sciencesoup
  24. bridgetsnapdragon reblogged this from 13213152 and added:
    THIS IS SO COOLthis kind of thing is why I always wanted to be a linguist
  25. 13213152 reblogged this from sciencesoup
  26. polymethodic reblogged this from ajora
  27. bio-bliss reblogged this from sciencesoup
  28. arietide reblogged this from mirandaadria
  29. rawrbeep reblogged this from sciencesoup and added:
    Speak up.
  30. looking-for-lighthouses reblogged this from scinerds
  31. negativecos reblogged this from miniprof
  32. thewanderingtrumpeteer reblogged this from sciencesoup