Three Areas of Experimental Phonetics
Peter Ladefoged, 1967

Stress and Respiratory Activity
This chapter is concerned with how the lungs and the respiratory muscles are used in speech. The main result is that it is not possible to make simple statements about the nature of linguistic stress. This is not new; Stetson (1928, 1951) and Jones (1932) have made this point many years ago. The data presented here will show that stress is a gesture of the respiratory muscles, and that it can be specified in terms of the amount of work done on the air in the lungs. Variations in the activity of the respiratory muscles can be correlated with the linguistically irrelevant factor of the amount of air in the lungs, and by variations associated with particular consonants and particular pitch contours. The work reported here should make it quite plain that linguistic stress is a measurable bodily activity. It is more than something we hear; it is something we do.

The Nature of Vowel Quality
This chapter deals with some aspects of vowel quality. We can discuss vowels easily in terms of their acoustic properties and how we hear them. It is more difficult to discuss their physiological properties and how we make them. But these results will show that even within the acoustic domain we still do not know how to give a precise specification of vowel quality. The best description of a vowel, whether for teaching a foreign language or for scientifically describing the sounds of speech, seems to require the impressionistic judgements of highly trained observers. This is not very satisfactory.

Units in the Perception and Production of Speech
This final section has implications for physiologists and psychologists, as well as linguistics and all those who would describe speech in any way. The production of speech involves some of the most intricate, precisely controlled, muscular movements that a human being can make; and the perception of speech requires a complicated process of pattern recognition. We know very little about the mental processes underlying these activities; but the experiments reported here throw some light on the nature of the stored patterns which must be involved. The data suggest that the smallest units are not likely to be of the size of phonemes. Phonemes may provide a convenient way of describing the competence of a speaker; but they probably have no pschological or physiological correlates in the normal process of listening and talking.

Top of Page | TAEP Opinion | Sort by Topic | Sort by Title | Sort by Author