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Learning resources from INTO UEA

Phonology: A System of Sounds

Watch the video, answer the questions on a piece of paper, then check your answers.

  1. How many phonemes does English have?
    About 40
  2. What two phonemes exist in English but not in some other languages?
    The "r" and "l" sounds (in rip and lip)
  3. Besides phonemes, what else do you have to learn?
    The boundaries between the words
  4. What does an oscilloscope prove?
    There are no pauses between words
  5. Where do the pauses come from?
    Your mind - they are a psychological illusion
  6. What two languages does he mention next?
    French and Hebrew
  7. What do the song lyrics illustrate?
    Misunderstandings of the lyrics by children
  8. What does your mind do when you don’t hear a word clearly?
    It fills in the gap and figures out what the word is
  9. Who is the singer that he mentions?
    Rick James
  10. What is the mental action called that fills in gaps?
    Top-down processing
  11. Why didn’t he want to buy "Get Crunk" for his children?
    It contained bad language - obscene words
  12. Besides sound, what else gets cleared up by our minds?
    Vision - how we see the world

Words from the Academic Word List have been hidden in this transcript. Watch the video, complete the gaps on a piece of paper, then check your answers.

  1. So, phonology. Phonology is the system of sounds that languages have. There’s a subset. There’s a list, a
    finite
    list, of possible sounds that language can use. I’m going to put aside for the moment the question of sign languages and how they work. I’m going to talk about them in a little bit. The idea is that English has about forty of these phonemes. So, if you’re a native monolingual speaker of English you hear speech and each sound you hear is
    categorized
    as falling into one of those forty morphemes — sorry, phonemes. So, for example, English has a phoneme of "lu," "l," and a phoneme of "r." And so, an English speaker can hear the difference between "lip" and "rip" and that
    corresponds
    to two different words in English. Other languages don’t have that
    distinction
    and so those
    distinctions
    are very difficult for non-native English speakers to learn.
  2. So part of what goes on when you learn is you have to learn the language — the phonemes that your language has. Another part of the problem of learning language is you have to figure out what the boundaries are between the words. You have to use sound signals to figure out the boundaries between the words. Now that — If the only language you’ve ever heard is English, that’s going to seem like a really weird example of a problem because you’re listening to me speak and in between each of my words you’re hearing a pause. You don’t have to be very smart to figure out where one word begins and one word ends. But the pause is a
    psychological
    illusion. If you were to just talk into an oscilloscope that measured your sound vibrations, there are no pauses between the words. Rather, the pauses are
    inserted
    by your mind as you already know where one word begins and another one ends. And you
    insert
    a pause at that point.
  3. You could see this when you hear a language you don’t already know. So, for those of you who have never heard French before, when you hear somebody say, "Je ne sais pas" you could say, "Remarkable! French has no pauses between words." And you — And now a French speaker, of course, hears "Je ne sais pas." For Hebrew, I know one sentence in Hebrew: "Sleecha, eypho ha-sheeruteem" which I think is a request for the bathroom. But if you don’t know Hebrew there’s no pauses. And the truth is, when you each gave your
    demonstrations
    , nobody spoke properly because nobody spoke — Here’s the sentence: "Glorp [pause] fendel [pause] smug [pause] wuggle." Rather, you all sounded like, "blublublublublub" without any pauses because I don’t know your languages.
  4. Children come into the world without knowing any
    specific
    language and so they have to learn pauses. They have to learn to
    interpret
    sounds in
    context
    and sometimes they make mistakes. They get problems of segmentation. And there are some
    illustrations
    . You could see their mistakes if they’re trying to repeat back something that’s already known within a society. So, songs are a good example. These are excerpts from children.  "I’ll never be your pizza burnin’." Anybody know — figure out what that
    corresponds
    to? "Beast of burden." Very good. [reading another misunderstood song lyric off of the slide] "A girl with colitis goes by." Somebody? [Student: "A girl with kaleidoscope eyes."] "The ants are my friends; they’re blowin’ in the wind." And [laughter] this is a religious one. "Our father with Bart in heaven; Harold be they name… Lead us not into Penn Station…"
  5. Now phonological understanding
    illustrates
    all sorts of
    aspects
    of language
    processing
    and, in fact, of consciousness. Because remember I said that, typically, when you hear a sentence you make — you manufacture in your mind gaps between the words. Typically, when there’s something which is unclear you’ll fill in the gap and figure out what the word is. And you’ll hear it that way. So, the few examples — The best examples, again, are for when it goes wrong.
  6. So, a
    classic
    example is from the song "Super Freak" by Rick James. I got a big
    lecture
    about copyright laws and this is going to
    violate
    most of them. Rick James is going to be sitting on the — at — staring at the web two years from now saying, "Hey. That’s my thing." Okay. So, I want you to listen to this line. I’m sure most of you have heard this before but I want you to listen closely. [music playing] What was that last line? [laughter] "The kind of girl you read about — " Well, it turns out that nobody really knows. And it sounds to many people who do top-down
    interpretation
    as — to me as well, that "she’s the kind of girl you read about in Newsweek magazine." But that makes no sense at all given that you don’t want to "bring home to Mama." [referring to a song lyric] And she’s — and it’s not the — and in fact, if you check the notes on the song, she’s in fact, "the kind of girl you read about in new wave magazines." Now, when you listen to it then, again, knowing that, you hear it that way. [music playing]
  7. Now, this top-down — This is known as "top-down"
    processing
    . Top-down
    processing
    is an example of when you know what something is you hear it that way. And this is extremely useful when it comes to filling in gaps in sounds. In
    normal
    conversation, if I’m to say "s — [coughs] entence" you won’t hear that as "s — [cough] entence." Rather, you hear "sentence." You fill in the gap. This can lead to problems. The problem it’s led to in my life revolves around the song "Get Crunk" [laughter] because I’ve heard "Get Crunk" and my children asked me if I would buy them "Get Crunk" from iTunes. My children are eight and ten. And now "Get Crunk," as I was
    aware
    from having heard it before,
    involves
    the
    consistent
    refrain of "get crunk" extremely bad word, "get crunk" extremely bad word, and so I said "no." And then they said, "Well, there’s a clean
    version
    of it." So, I downloaded the clean
    version
    . Unfortunately, knowing what the clean
    version
    — knowing what the word is means to me the clean
    version
    is not very clean. Now, I will add, [laughter] before people write letters and stuff, this is the clean
    version
    . [The music plays, but even though the expletives are censored out you still
    perceive
    them as being there] [laughter] Thank goodness they took away that obscene word. [laughter]
  8. Okay. So, top-down
    processing
    affects
    how we hear things, usually, almost always, for the better. And in fact, this is a
    theme
    we’re going to return to next class when we talk about
    vision
    because the same thing is going to happen there. How we see the world is often confusing and befuddled but what we know can clear things up. Same with sound.

  1. So, phonology. Phonology is the system of sounds that languages have. There’s a subset. There’s a list, a finite list, of possible sounds that language can use. I’m going to put aside for the moment the question of sign languages and how they work. I’m going to talk about them in a little bit. The idea is that English has about forty of these phonemes. So, if you’re a native monolingual speaker of English you hear speech and each sound you hear is categorized as falling into one of those forty morphemes — sorry, phonemes. So, for example, English has a phoneme of "lu," "l," and a phoneme of "r." And so, an English speaker can hear the difference between "lip" and "rip" and that corresponds to two different words in English. Other languages don’t have that distinction and so those distinctions are very difficult for non-native English speakers to learn.
  2. So part of what goes on when you learn is you have to learn the language — the phonemes that your language has. Another part of the problem of learning language is you have to figure out what the boundaries are between the words. You have to use sound signals to figure out the boundaries between the words. Now that — If the only language you’ve ever heard is English, that’s going to seem like a really weird example of a problem because you’re listening to me speak and in between each of my words you’re hearing a pause. You don’t have to be very smart to figure out where one word begins and one word ends. But the pause is a psychological illusion. If you were to just talk into an oscilloscope that measured your sound vibrations, there are no pauses between the words. Rather, the pauses are inserted by your mind as you already know where one word begins and another one ends. And you insert a pause at that point.
  3. You could see this when you hear a language you don’t already know. So, for those of you who have never heard French before, when you hear somebody say, "Je ne sais pas" you could say, "Remarkable! French has no pauses between words." And you — And now a French speaker, of course, hears "Je ne sais pas." For Hebrew, I know one sentence in Hebrew: "Sleecha, eypho ha-sheeruteem" which I think is a request for the bathroom. But if you don’t know Hebrew there’s no pauses. And the truth is, when you each gave your demonstrations, nobody spoke properly because nobody spoke — Here’s the sentence: "Glorp [pause] fendel [pause] smug [pause] wuggle." Rather, you all sounded like, "blublublublublub" without any pauses because I don’t know your languages.
  4. Children come into the world without knowing any specific language and so they have to learn pauses. They have to learn to interpret sounds in context and sometimes they make mistakes. They get problems of segmentation. And there are some illustrations. You could see their mistakes if they’re trying to repeat back something that’s already known within a society. So songs are a good example. These are excerpts from children. "I’ll never be your pizza burnin’." Anybody know — figure out what that corresponds to? "Beast of burden." Very good. "A girl with colitis goes by." Somebody? [Student: "A girl with kaleidoscope eyes."] "The ants are my friends; they’re blowin’ in the wind." And [laughter] this is a religious one. "Our father with Bart in heaven; Harold be they name… Lead us not into Penn Station…"
  5. Now phonological understanding illustrates all sorts of aspects of language processing and in fact of consciousness. Because remember I said that typically when you hear a sentence you make — you manufacture in your mind gaps between the words. Typically when there’s something which is unclear you’ll fill in the gap and figure out what the word is. And you’ll hear it that way. So, the few examples — The best examples again are for when it goes wrong.
  6. So, a classic example is from the song "Super Freak" by Rick James. I got a big lecture about copyright laws and this is going to violate most of them. Rick James is going to be sitting on the — at — staring at the web two years from now saying, "Hey. That’s my thing." Okay. So I want you to listen to this line. I’m sure most of you have heard this before but I want you to listen closely. [music playing] What was that last line? [laughter] "The kind of girl you read about — " Well, it turns out that nobody really knows. And it sounds to many people who do top-down interpretation as — to me as well, that "she’s the kind of girl you read about in Newsweek magazine." But that makes no sense at all given that you don’t want to "bring home to Mama." And she’s — and it’s not the — and in fact, if you check the notes on the song, she’s in fact, "the kind of girl you read about in new wave magazines." Now, when you listen to it then, again, knowing that, you hear it that way. [music playing]
  7. Now, this top-down — This is known as "top-down" processing. Top-down processing is an example of when you know what something is you hear it that way. And this is extremely useful when it comes to filling in gaps in sounds. In normal conversation, if I’m to say "s — [coughs] entence" you won’t hear that as "s — [cough] entence." Rather, you hear "sentence." You fill in the gap. This can lead to problems. The problem it’s led to in my life revolves around the song "Get Crunk" [laughter] because I heard "Get Crunk" and my children asked me if I would buy them "Get Crunk" from iTunes. My children are eight and ten. And now "Get Crunk," as I was aware from having heard it before, involves the consistent refrain of "get crunk" extremely bad word, "get crunk" extremely bad word, and so I said "no." And then they said, "Well, there’s a clean version of it." So, I downloaded the clean version. Unfortunately, knowing what the clean version — knowing what the word is means to me the clean version is not very clean. Now, I will add, [laughter] before people write letters and stuff, this is the clean version. [laughter] Thank goodness they took away that obscene word. [laughter]
  8. Okay. So, top-down processing affects how we hear things, usually, almost always, for the better. And in fact, this is a theme we’re going to return to next class when we talk about vision because the same thing is going to happen there. How we see the world is often confusing and befuddled but what we know can clear things up. Same with sound.

Paul Bloom, Introduction to Psychology (Yale University: Open Yale Courses), https://oyc.yale.edu (Accessed 10 June 2013). Licence: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA. Terms of Use