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In the plane. I think you've got it. I think she's got a really good speed. I taught. My daughter. What it looks as if I mastered one of the songs of English. Just one. Professor Higgins though would probably say that she has mastered two sounds where mines meet a series of explorations in human communication conducted by professors John Freud and Arnold Nelson of the Department of English Western Michigan University. In a shrinking world where minds meet in words or not at all man speech is his most decisive act. These discussions explore this world of speech.
The topic for today the earmarks of English. Now here are professors flowing to Nelson. This is John freind and this is Donald Nelson. John perhaps you'd better explain what you meant by saying that Professor Higgins had talked Eliason to sounds. Well Arnie all I meant was that the sound that we heard in rain in Spain was not one sound. It's at least two. What do you mean that because we spell that sound with two letters a I in Spain and rain and plane and a Y and stayed that for that reason that two separate sounds. Well not because it's spelled that way because it sounds that way. Many of the vowel sounds of English aren't single sounds at all but combinations of two different sounds. I sound like I which we write with one letter is really two different sounds that glide into each other. I see. That's right. I know when Eliza says the rain in
Spain stays mainly in the plain. If I slow it down it would sound like this. The rain in Spain stay is main early in the play. Well if you could say it backwards then it would be easy first and them there. Right. Yeah it is yeah. A backwards guns out. Yeah. Why don't I say Eliza sentence and then have the tape recorder play it backwards. The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plane and need a new name Z its need its need in Iraq it would be interesting to try this with other sounds to see what they're really like. At least get a new slant on them like a painter looking at his work upside down. Well Johnson's you're so backward in your English Let's hear your con from 1 to 5 that way. OK yet KL one
and two. Three for. Her all five. Yeah. Well it's not only the Vols John the consonants seem to be rather complex sounds too. The V and F sounds in five are hardly recognizable backwards. That means if we could slow down the tape recorder we would hear a series of separate sounds and both be in there. And when that series is reversed we get an entirely different effect. I'd like to take pairs of words next say and yes for instance. Now theoretically the sounds in those words are exactly reversed and they should sound the same backwards or forwards. You mean the sound and not the spelling of course. Of course that then I'd like to take the two words talk and cut now in those words. You have to that also
sound like exact reversals. And finally in the pair of words how and walk we can see before we even start that they aren't exactly alike. For it's how but it's true. OC and Sikh who are. Rock. That's right. Like the difference between the eyes and in the words PA and Paul. There is an awe in how but an awe in walk. But those who are in both say yes say yes talk caught our eye. How walk. Well again I was listening to those consonants John while you were concentrating on the vowels
the S's I noticed seem to be the same both ways but the sounds of T and kid say especially in talking cock were quite different backwards. Obviously that T at the beginning of a word is not the same as a T at the end of a word. In fact most consonants change their sounds depending on where they are in the word that is depending on what other songs come before and after them. Well the two words cat and spat demonstrate this clearly the sound P is not the same when it begins a word as when it follows an s. And it's an interesting experiment to say these words while holding a lighted match in front of your mouth when you say Pat the flame will be blown out. When you say spat it won't. Well it's obvious from these examples that spelling doesn't indicate actual sounds very accurately. Then it would be awfully confusing if it did in Patton's but wouldn't I like to try those backward speech on a palindrome you know all those clever sentences that are spelled exactly
alike forward and backwards. Oh you like Adam's introduction of himself to Eve Madam I'm Adam he said. I'd like to try to famous one attributed to Napoleon able was I ere I saw Elba. My Aussie our I have no will be. It sounds like Russian I suppose Napoleon said that while he was retreating from Moscow I imagine that's one true thing. We're all aware John that English spelling is a far cry from English pronunciation but the way we spell words nevertheless affects the way we hear sounds so that when we hear a foreign language for instance we seem to hear it in terms of English spelling as well as English sounds. Well John you're introducing a very important point here that is that each language has its own set of sounds. Now some of these may be like our own but the ones that are causing us a great deal of trouble in fact we can hardly hear them. That is we don't hear them for what they really are our
ears are listening for English sounds and consequently we hear them as a kind of mis pronunciation of English right we have English ears it's much like an optical illusion I suppose we could call it an auditory motion. Now when we listen to a language completely foreign to us we're uncertain of just what sounds we really are hearing like in this South American Indian dialect culture. I don't wanna see me yet and teach what I'm. We don't need them yet young teacher as I was listening to this John I was thinking how difficult it would be to spell when I was really hearing you don't mean just that the words are foreign but the sounds that make up the words.
I wasn't sure myself whether I heard a a D or an R. At one point now this illustrates that there's a big difference between the sounds that are spoken and the sounds that are heard. And that's our main point for today. English like all languages is made up of earmarks and it's the sounds that the ear receives rather than those the voice sounds that are the building blocks of language. Well you're not saying that what the voice sends is unimportant but what you mean is that the spoken sound is never the same twice after all the mechanism of our voice doesn't stamp out identical sounds. Like a mint stands out pennies but the ear receives these sounds as if they were exactly the same each time. That's right our ears are interested in families of sounds not not in hearing the exact nature of each separate sound to our ears and a is an A just as a chair is a chair though we know that every chair is
different and the same is true in writing. We never write our name the same way twice but to a bank teller our signature is our signature. Our eye does the same thing with separate letters too. I remember collecting about 50 examples once of the letter G in printed material. There were unbelievable differences between some of them but my eyes saw each of them as G. Now if ears in the same way did hear all the little differences instead of only the similarities we would hear only a jumble of sound instead of a language. And the ear incidentally does get into difficulties when it listens to a foreign language. The sounds do get jumbled. We can illustrate some of these difficulties by playing part of the interview you recorded with a Swedish speaking student. Mr. Carey. I've always understood that there is one sound in Swedish That simply is not heard in English and it may be not
heard in a lot of other languages. And that is. Well since I can't pronounce it. I'll simply ask you to say. The Swedish word for the English word 7. Where you say to get crude. And that is spelled. Ass J U. I'm going to try it myself. You say it once more and I'm going to try and figure it what you find wrong with my pen way. Anything wrong with her. Well yeah. When I make a I make it as if I were saying is if it were spell f w. You. Yeah. But that isn't quite right.
Hoo hoo hoo. So there's a kind of queso. In the letters. Right. Yeah it's almost like you. Do your teeth get into the act. They don't just tell it like. I still can't hear that sound John. I heard a lot of Swedish in my home when I was a child but I never was able to hear that sound so that I could say it properly. Well I never heard any Swedish in my home so I haven't had any difficulty with it and I did hear later in that interview I got involved with a couple of other sounds at my English ears don't hear one of the sounds is spelled T.J. in Swedish and the other one k. When Mr Kerry was trying to get me to hear the difference they sounded absolutely identical. The word beginning with T.J. sounded something like
and means to cry. The word that starts with K sounds something like Chuck baller and it means meat bone. But all I could hear in both cases is when I would spell with a C H I don't hear any difference between. The first sound in that word and the first sound in trip. Let me hear you have put it. In the part of chit chat chit chat. She she she she. She she would. When you'll be able to put the birth. Day. On a word our ship
would find it humorous it would be I would say he would. He would say that I couldn't hear the difference then but I think I hear it now. I think maybe the difference is illustrated in two different pronunciations we sometimes hear of the word nature the way I just said it nature and what I would consider an affected pronunciation. Do you mean something like Nate. That's right nature cure so it's nature and nature. Well the C-H sound in English is very close to a T Y sound. There are many words in which this combination results in the sound as in church. Wealth fortune at literature. Mixture 30 words like that amount to an evolution out of.
Well in other words and this sound does occur in English but we don't ever hear the beginning of words as we do in Swedish. That's exactly it. We often hear it though when one word ends with a T and the next word starts with a y. I was thinking of the phrase next year next year next year or next year. Yes well then the point that you're making is that it's it's easy enough for us to say these sounds that Mr. Kerry was saying. We do it all the time but it's almost impossible for us to hear them in unfamiliar surroundings. In my interview with Mr. Kerry I found that his Swedish ear had the same kind of problem with English with the T Y and c h sounds he heard quite a difference but here we find that he heard little difference between sounds are worlds apart from us. I had trouble with. Beer You know and I still do Beer Beer beer
when we're drinking. Yeah you didn't hear that well here. And they seem quite closely to me and I heard the animal Well that would depend on the person who was speaking there. If someone said look at the bird he wouldn't know whether to look for something flying in the air or something on a man's face is that the way you pronounce it and you know it's no doubt about it. In normal conversation you would have this difficulty. Yeah. Yes if somebody was saying. Look at the beer and then look at what there is in there. Look there there is a. Beer called a goatee. Yeah.
Well that's awfully amusing to us as we hear it. But it shows that Mr. Kerry is still not as sure of those sounds as a native English speaker. No and he's been in this country for three years. Still his ear can't distinguish what I think a three year old English speaking child would probably have no difficulty with. Well this business of the difficulty that a foreigner has with English or an English speaking person with a foreign language can be illustrated with many languages. I found the same thing when I interviewed Dr. Irving Lowe of the English department Dr. Low's native languages Chinese. And since Chinese is so different from English the difficulties in hearing sounds are even greater. I asked him first what difficulties we would have in learning Chinese. It will be the ability to distinguish between the level of people. We usually say that exist 8 levels of peace voice now
but actually many of these levels have lost. So now we have. A 5 to 7 eleven of them here. Tremendous number. And those are those distinguished the meanings of words. Yes and this number varies from one dialect to another. Take for instance the the name of the Chinese name of Juan which is usually spelled w a n g or sometimes a bit o and. If you see two Chinese people meet and one of them says My name is Juan and the other one who is one. This sounds amusing but this is because at least three or four names with the same pronunciation. And could you get could you say a few of those names for them. Perhaps I can hear the difference. Yes I would say the first thing rap is the S. So the US. See the
difference and then the three separately. The first one. These three I have in my one want one. The first one. Won one. Well I heard a difference in pitch but I'd never be able to remember it long enough to know which one you were talking about. Why. Why. Why. Yeah baby like it I'm sure. The trouble actually comes when different words have different meanings. For instance it's a nursery rhyme. I can recall the first line of it which is used to teach the Westerners how to distinguish the difference between the levels of Pete's and the first ma ma ma ma. I notice that there are several Was was the same sound the ma. Yes.
That means I'm all woman. Mama means the horse and the other means slow. So this first and I mean an all woman riding on the horse who's just too slow. I and all of the three different meanings of what I heard as just mom. Yes actually that means woman. Horse. Means to score. Reprimand. Means to sell merchandise and all are distinguished by those pictures that we don't even hear I don't even hear except when you say them in succession like that I can tell a slight difference in pitch. Well I do any sounds in English that cause a special difficulty to speak or in Chinese. Exchanges
for a beginner. He'll have trouble to distinguish between any and. Because this distinction does not exist in Chinese. They would then sound alike to them and he would have difficulty saying them and that. Is a maze or so and is made with the lips they have lived. Those two sounds would it would be difficult for Chinese to distinguish between the word lip and the word now. And then. He h. Re. I think we all I think. Either one of those. Th sounds. They don't exist in Chinese either. Don't know. These new cameras because the new kind of a thing with this and that these people. John I wonder if we export to China any dolls that say mom.
Yes they call them horsey dolls. Well Arnie we've been talking about the difficulties foreigners have with English and vice versa. We ought to mention that there are sounds in English that a native speaker of English has difficulty in hearing. You don't mean. Speech and Hearing defects the kind of thing that would be treated in a clinic. No no I would rather the difference between English dialects. That's it. Well even in America we have different dialects with their own songs. And incidentally that was certainly noticeable in the Kennedy-Nixon debates for example. But I was thinking of the kind of trouble that I usually have knowing what a Southerner means when he says what sounds like a pin. Now he could mean either pin or pan since he says them both the same way. P i n r p e n. Can I have a pair. That's right what do you want. Well in my own Minnesota dialect I have difficulty hearing the different sounds we spoke of earlier the the
sounds and and paw. I don't distinguish easily between cot C ot a small bed and cot C A U G H T the past tense of catch this particular deaf spot is found in my hometown although communities not more than 20 miles away have no problem with it. Well which one do you say. Well I always I think I always used to say cot but since this was pointed out to me when I was in high school I think I waver not between the two so that I'm never really quite sure which of the two sonnes I'm saying you'd say that you slept on a cot. Yes I caught a few winks on a cot. Well my wife has a pronunciation that's quite a bit like that. She says Mockingbird when I would say Mockingbird. You have trouble. Distinguishing various mockingbirds know how well we all have a dialect and consequently we all have deaf spots. But the
really amazing thing is how skillful our ear is with all the sloppiness of speech and with all the dialect differences with all the individual differences in voices. The ear is still able to pick out those essential cues that make sounds meaningful. Then there is really an irony wouldn't you say irony in that we associate language and communication as much as we do with the tongue. That's right. Now we use the word tongue for instance to mean language as in the phrase the tongues of man. Or when we say he speaks a foreign tongue. But the fact of the matter is that tongue important as it is in the vocal mechanism is not essential. We could get along with our own. That's right the handicap of being without a tongue isn't after all as one might think insurmountable. And here is what to me is an almost fantastic illustration of this
point. The speech of a man without a tongue in this recording he is being interviewed by his doctor the patient wearing the AM band 57 years of age. A plumber by trade and a resident of St. Louis County was operated in July and I'm here 31 by Dr. James Vera Brown of St. Louis the operation was imperative and consisted of complete extirpation of a home park and a town which advocated Weisz with a corner of the hyoid bone and not a very common tissue remains. Before commenting further on this I knew who'd be rehabilitation. I would ask Mr. fan a few questions to indicate his facility in daily conversation. What is your name.
My life by. My bed. Where do you hear. I live without those hundreds and who are on any other then world. How old are you. I am this Saturday. Yes. What is your occupation. I'm not a plumber. How long have you been good. Where I live five yet. Have you found the absence of your town. A special handicapping carrying on your prey. I have not troubled and the girl only read through line. Let the light conduct on the landing than everything in my day. Well Arnie I think that that recording illustrates our whole
program's point about as clearly as it can be illustrated for certainly the earmarks of English remain even when the tongue is completely gone. It shows that no single part of the speech mechanism is essential. After all there are many people who don't have teeth. There are some people who can speak even though they don't have voice boxes in fact there's an organization of people who have no voice boxes but who have learned to speak adequately. But the crucial role that the ear plays in producing speech sounds really cannot be overemphasized as a contrast to the speech we heard of the man without a tongue. Let's listen now to the speech of a man whose speech organs are perfectly normal but who is not able to hear his speech the speech of the congenitally deaf. This man is reciting the Gettysburg Address. Far up of men
and at the bottom. Love live there one of them led to for BLOW STUFF TO from the very first day of a very very good very very very low. You know I feel bad. Well Arnie I don't think we need to say anything about that. It makes its own point. We've talked about one kind of sound only the vowels and consonants but there's a lot more a person does in speech besides uttering vowels and consonants like the Chinese language. English takes account of levels of pitch among other things. Well next time let's talk about the keyboard of speech. What an English voice does to the vowels and the consonants.
Where minds meet
Speech sounds
Producing Organization
Western Michigan University
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Earmarks of English: Speech Sounds
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Discussions explore world of speech, conducted by Professors John Freund and Arnold Nelson of Western Michigan University
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Host: Freund, John
Host: Nelson, Arnold
Producing Organization: Western Michigan University
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:00
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Chicago: “Where minds meet; Speech sounds,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 12, 2022,
MLA: “Where minds meet; Speech sounds.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 12, 2022. <>.
APA: Where minds meet; Speech sounds. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from