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The play. In the play. And. I think you've got. I think. By George. Well it looks as if Eliza has mastered one of the sounds of English John. One of Professor Higgins though would probably say that she has mastered two sounds where our minds meet and a series of explorations in human communication conducted by professors John Freud and Arnold Nelson of the Department of English Western Michigan University where minds meet has produced and recorded by W-M UK under a grant from the National Association of educational broadcasters. In a shrinking world where minds meet
and words are not at all man speech is his most decisive act. These discussions explore this world of speech and the topic for today is earmarks of speech sounds. Here are professors frind and Nelson. This is John freind and this is Arnold Nelson. John Suppose you explain what you meant by saying that Professor Higgins a top adviser to sounds. Well Arnie all I meant was that the sound the sound that we hear in rain in Spain is not one sound. It's at least two. What do you mean that because we spell that song with two letters a I in Spain and rain and plane and a Y in stays. And for that reason that's two separate sounds. Well no I mean 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 that sound like. I for instance which we write with one letter is really two different sounds that glide into each other. I I I he he. All right. Right now that's the same thing is true of the sound a a is really a and e a e an E and E the two sounds the glide. And so when Eliza says the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. If I slow that down you know it sounds like this. The raid in Spain stays mainly in the plain. Well if you could say it backwards it would be there. Yes yes. A backwards comes out there. Oh why don't I say Eliza's sentence and then have the tape recorder
play it backwards. The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain and the new year. It's nice to sneak in. It would be interesting to try this with other sounds to see what they're really like. Well at least it would give us a new slant on them. Something like a painter looking at his work upside down. Well since you're so backward in your English John let's hear you count from 1 to 5 that way. Okay yeah one two three four. Her All five have. Well it's not only the Vols John. Those consonants seem to be rather complex sounds too. I notice that the V and the F sounds in five are hardly recognizable backwards and that means that if we could slow down the tape recorder we
would hear instead of one kind of sound a series of separate sounds in both the consonants V and F right. And when that series is reversed we get an entirely different effect. Well I'd like to take some pairs of words next Donny for instance the pair of words say and yes. Now theoretically the sounds in those words are exactly reversed and they should sound the same backwards or forwards. You mean the sound of cars and not the spelling. Yes but I'd like to take two other words to the words talk and caught in those words you have to that also sound like exact reversals and then finally I'd like to take the pair of words how and walk I think we can see even before we start that those two aren't exactly alike. You see it it's cause how but it's WHO WALK WALK who and who. All right.
It's the same difference as the difference between PA and Paul and Paul. You see there's an ox in cow but an on in walk. But there's no in both. Say yes say yes. Talk caught our eye. How walk the walk. Well again I was listening to those consonants while you were concentrating on the Vols. The guesses seem to be the same both ways. The sounds of T and K especially and talk and cop were quite different to my ear backward. Yes well obviously the T at the beginning of a word is not the same as the T at the end of a word. In fact most consonants change their sounds depending on where they are in the word and that is depending on what other
sounds come before and after them. Well the two words Pat and spent for instance demonstrate this point clearly. The sound of P is not the same when it begins a word as when it follows an s. 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 it won't use this demonstration in my classes and it never fails. It's obvious from these examples that spelling doesn't indicate actual sounds very accurately. I'm going to try this backward speech on a palindrome you know those Clymer sentences that are spelled exactly alike forwards and backwards like the famous one of Adams's introduction of himself to Eve. Madam I'm Adam. Well I'd like to try the famous one attributed to Napoleon. Able was I ere I saw Elba of my boss Aure me.
That sounds like Russian. Did Napoleon say that while he was retreating from Moscow. I'm not sure whether he spoke that we're all aware that we're all aware that English spelling is a far cry from English pronunciation but the way we spell words nevertheless affects the way that we hear sound so that when we hear a foreign language we seem to hear it in terms of English spelling as well as English sounds. Well not John you're introducing a very important point here. That is that each language has its own set of sounds. Some of these may be like our own but the ones that aren't causes a great deal of trouble. In fact we can hardly hear them. That is we don't hear them for what they really are ears are listening for English sound. That's right. We hear them as a kind of nice pronunciation of English. Yes we have English ears. It's much like an optical illusion. I suppose we could call in an auditorium motion but when we listen Arny to a language that's
completely foreign to us we're uncertain of just what sounds we really are hearing like in this South American Indian dialect without which I do not see me yet and teach what I'm not. We don't know yet young teacher. As I was listening to this I was thinking how difficult it would be to spell when I was hearing. I couldn't make out very clearly any of the individual sounds and you you don't mean just that the words are foreign. No but the sounds that make up the words rhyme. While I wasn't sure for instance whether I heard a D or an R at one point and I think this illustrates that there's a big difference between the sounds that are spoken and the sounds that are heard. Well that's our main point today. The English like all languages is made
up of your marks and it's the sounds that the ear receives rather than those that the voice sounds that are really the building blocks of a language. And it's not that the voice end is unimportant but that the spoken sound is never the same twice. The mechanism of our voice doesn't stamp out identical sounds like a mint stamps out pennies but the ear receives these sounds as if they were exactly the same all the time. Yes our ears are interested in families of songs in songs that go together to make up a kind of group. They're not interested in hearing the exact nature of each separate sound. In other words to our ears and a is an A just as a chair is a chair even though we know that every chair is different and the same thing holds true in writing. We never write our name the same way twice but to a bank teller our signatures are signature. Well our eye does the same thing with separate letters too.
I once made a collection of over 50 different examples of G that I found in magazines and a kind of printed form of the letter G. I noticed that there were unbelievable differences between some of them but nevertheless each one of them has a G. Well if our ears 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 does get into difficulties when it listens to a foreign language. The sounds do get jumbled. I think we can illustrate some of these difficulties by playing part of the interview you recorded with the Swedish speaking student. Mr. Carey I've always understood that there is one found in Swedish That simply is not heard in English and it may be not heard in a lot of other languages. And that is. Welsh if I can't pronounce it. I'll simply ask you to say.
The Swedish word for the English word 7 or you fail again. And that is spelled J U. I'm going to try it myself. You say it once more and I'm going to try it and see if you if what you find wrong with my pronunciation say. Anything wrong with where. Just where. Well. When I make it I make it as if I were saying is if it were spelled f w you. Yes Wm. But that isn't quite right it should be free. Hoo hoo ha. So there's a kind of whistle in the letters. I.
Know you can only. Yeah they're kind of almost like you. You need to listen. To your teeth. Get into the act. They don't just live life. Well I still can't hear that sound John I ought to be able to look to. I heard a lot of sweets in my home when I was a child but I never was able to hear that song so I can say it properly. Well I didn't hear any Swedish in my home so I haven't had any difficulty with it I'm glad to hear that. Well later in that interview I got involved with a couple of other sounds that my English ears don't hear very well. One of the sounds is spelled T.J. in Swedish and the other one is spelled with a K.. When Mr. Kerry was trying to get me to hear the difference they sounded identical. The word beginning with T.J. sounded something like shoot and it means to cry. The
word that starts with K sound something like chop bar and that means meat ball. 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 and check it. Let me hear you have a chip. In the side of a chip yet chip chip chip chip chip chip chip chip. Chip. Sure. What would you be able to put. On a word ship while our ship
would find this humorous ship. He would. He would say this is wrong. I couldn't hear the difference then John but I think maybe I hear it now. I think the difference is illustrated in two different pronunciations that we sometimes hear of a word like nature. The way I just said it nature. When I would consider an affected pronunciation transition like Nate. Yes Nate to your nature. Well I didn't mean nature and nature and the C-H sound in English. Any after all is very close to. That is a t y sound. Yes we have a lot of words in which this combination results in C H. This just sound as in church. Words like. Fortunate literature mixture
furniture words which aren't spelled see age. Yes they're like an evolution I'd say out of a sound. In other words this does occur in English and I think that's the important thing. But we don't ever hear it at the beginning of words as in Swedish. We often hear when one word ends with a T and the next word starts with a Y as in next year next year next year next year next year that's when it said fast like that. Well then the point is that it's easy enough for us to say these sounds. 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 the C-H sounds he heard quite a difference. But here we find that he heard little difference between sounds and are really worlds apart for us. Well I had trouble with.
Fear and you know and I still do have a beer in the beer. Where were you drinking. You didn't hear the D Well you're doing. And they seem quite closely to me and I heard the animal Well that would depend on the person who was speaking. They would. 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 I mean that's no doubt about it. In normal conversation you would have this difficulty. Yeah. Yes if somebody was saying. Look at the beer and the bin and look at it there's a look there. There is in the air and then
miracle recall the goatee. Yeah. Well Arnie that sounds 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. Well he had been in this country for three years but he still couldn't distinguish what I suppose many three year old children who speak English natively would have non-commital 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 that you did when I interviewed Dr. Irving low of the English department. Dr. Lo's native language is Chinese and since Chinese is so different from English. The difficulty is in hearing sounds are even greater. I asked him first what difficulties we would have in learning Chinese be the ability to distinguish between a level I can teach
or even now. We usually say that 8 11 with a piece. Well I found that actually many of the levels have lost. And now we have five high to seven. That's the level of the name tremendous number. And those are those distinguish 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. Sometimes a bit o n g. Now if you see two Chinese people meet and one of them says My name is Juan and the other one who's won. 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 so that perhaps I can hear the difference. Yes I would say that when facing Rapids to S.. So the US see the difference and then the three separately the first one. These three I have in my one won 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 me I'm sure the travel 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 and I read something
you would notice that there are several Was was the same sound a ma. Yes a woman means the horse and the other means slow. So this first and I mean no woman riding on the horse was just too slow. I and all of those there were three different meanings of what I heard as just mom. Yes I am actually there are three others. Maine's woman my horse means to scold reprimand mom 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 think of a slight difference in pitch. Well I do any sounds in English that cause a special
difficulty to a speaker in Chinese exchanges for a beginner. He'll have trouble to distinguish between the airport and the ends because this distinction does not exist in Chinese. They would then sound alike to them and he would have difficulty saying them for instance and that is in May's or so and is made with the lips they have lived. Need those two sounds would it would be difficult for a Chinese to distinguish between the word lip and the word no. Yeah. And then there is the sound of. Three I think three. All I think either one of those. Th sounds. They don't exist in Chinese either those I don't know. If it's a new problem and it's because I have a thing which this and that I have Ph.
John I wonder if we export to China Dolls and say Mama. Yeah but for all I know they call them horsey dolls there. Well I mean we've been talking about the difficulties that 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 have in mind the speech or hearing the facts but rather the difference between English dialect. Right. We even in America we have different dialects with their own songs and that is certainly noticeable Whenever a person travels even from one part of the country to another. Francis I always have trouble knowing what a Southerner means when he says pin a does he mean i n or P E N. Same problem with meat in a pan. In my own Minnesotan a dialect I have difficulty hearing the different sounds we spoke of earlier and the sounds and PNW. I had trouble seeing them at that point.
Yes pawn paw. I don't distinguish easily between the word c o t Cott. Is that it. They are small bed and cot. See a GHG in the past tense of catch this particular death spot is found in my hometown all the nearby communities don't have any trouble with it. Well which one do you see. Well I think I always used to say cot but since this was pointed out to me when I was in high school I think now I waver between the two so that now I'm never quite sure which of the two sonnes I'm saying you'd say you slept on a cot. Yes I caught a few winks on a cot. Well you know I mean my wife has a pronunciation something like that. She says Mockingbird. Well I would say Mockingbird. Well we all have a dialect of course and consequently we all have some deaf spots but the really amazing thing is how skillful it is that our ears are really extremely skillful anyway skillful as they are. Yes.
With all the sloppiness of speech and with all of the dialect differences with all the individual differences and voices the ear is still able to pick out those essential cues that make sounds meaningful. Well that is really an irony that we associate language and communication so much with the tongue but we use the word tongue to mean language as in the phrase the tongues of man or rather he speaks a foreign tongue but the tongue important as it is in the vocal mechanism isn't essential. The handicap of being without a tongue is not as one might think insurmountable. 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's being interviewed by his doctor location where I am 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 Derek Brown
family lawyer. The operation was imperative and consisted of complete extirpation of a town or county a town which advocated Weisz. In the corner of the hyoid bone and not a vestige of time tissue remains before commenting further on this on a huge beach rehabilitation I want to ask Mr. fan a few questions to indicate his facility in daily conversation. What is your name. Lyle and I gave my own bed. Where do you hear. I remember that little hundred and one. Any evidence that Ben Rhodes. How old are you. I and then staggering E and lovely. Are is your occupation. I am not a plumber.
How long have you been engaged in where I live five years. Have you found the absence of your town. A special handicap in carrying on your trade. I have that problem is that it is really red blue I have a little light on it. I'm back to lavish them every day and night. The earmarks of English remain. Even though the tongue is gone well no single part of the speech mechanism is really essential. After all many people don't have teeth and there are many people who can speak even though their voice boxes have been removed. But the crucial role that the era plays in producing speech sounds cannot be overemphasized. Well 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 was not able to hear his speech. The speech of the congenitally
deaf. This man is resigning the Gettysburg Address. Better than the subject. That of them differ but judging from the first day. Don't know if. You know. 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 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 the voice does to the vowels and 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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Episode Description
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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Social Issues
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Host: Freund, John
Host: Nelson, Arnold
Producing Organization: Western Michigan University
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-4-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:18
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Chicago: “Where minds meet; Speech sounds,” 1962-12-19, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 9, 2022,
MLA: “Where minds meet; Speech sounds.” 1962-12-19. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 9, 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