Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hooray for Internets!

Firstly, apologies for the long gap between updates!  I finally have the internet at home again and can actually get to the blog now.  Look for more frequent posts from now on.

We are in the throes of Acoustic Phonetics just now, and you have a lab to do this week(end).  I know this hasn't been the easiest material to grasp, but I hope it's been useful - understanding the acoustic properties of speech sounds will (I hope) come in pretty handy when we start talking about phonology and how phonological rules are based on the features of phonemes.

The other goal in working with spectrograms is to give you more practice in applying the scientific method.  Making observations, proposing hypotheses that account for those observations, then looking for corroborating or disconfirming evidence is the heart of the scientific method.  And if I teach you nothing else this year, I plan on teaching you how to do science.

Following the lab, our plan is to move into phonology proper.  You'll have a look at some problem sets using data from English at first, and then we'll play around with some languages you probably haven't looked at before.  This is going to be fun!

Some websites I've referenced in class which may be useful in completing your lab assignment:


My favorite acoustic phonetics website - Rob Hagiwara does a great job of explaining what you're looking at in a spectrogram (you may recognize some of our class notes - I shamelessly stole from him in building my presentations!).  Also here is the spectrogram of the month.  Although he doesn't update that often, those who find this sort of thing fun will want to check in here from time to time.


The mother-ship of phonetics websites.  There are others out there, but here's the lab founded by the master himself - Peter Ladefoged.  Have a look around - there's all kinds of data, examples and general spectrogram nerdery here!


A ton of phonetics resources scattered around the web.  If you plan on writing your paper next semester on anything to do with phonetics, this should be your launch pad.  Enjoy.


A couple of youtube videos we watched in our segment on the anatomy of the vocal apparatus and the physical biology of phonation.  The first is the (slightly gooey) video of the anatomy of a trans-nasal endoscopy.  See the alien who lives in your head!  Amuse and horrify your friends!  The second is the real-time MRI of the Diva and the Emcee.  Look at the gymnastics we are capable of with our vocal apparatus!  You do this stuff every day.

As we start to talk about phonology, rules, features, assimilation and the like, it may seem that we are getting pretty academic.  Never forget that there is a physical (and psychological)  reality associated with everything we'll talk about.  Come back and watch the gooey video and play with spectrograms if you start to lose touch with that!

I hope you're still having fun.  Keep me posted, let me know if you have ideas, stuff you want to learn about, or if you're completely lost.  Questions, comments, concerns and compliments are always welcome!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hockett's Design Features

Hockett (1966) proposes that there are 13 (or 14 or 15, depending on who you ask) design features common to all human languages and that at least one of these features is missing from all known animal communication systems, other than human language.  This week, we'll be talking about those features.  For our purposes and for ease of discussion, we will combine some of those features, resulting in a list of six.  For those who are curious and who would like more information about Hockett's original proposals, here's a pretty good powerpoint on the subject:


As a preview of the week to come, we'll start by looking at the design features and making sure we've got a pretty good handle on what they mean.  We'll then compare them with some complex communication systems elsewhere in the animal world.  We'll see if the features of these languages validate Hockett's viewpoint or not.

Moving on from there, we'll have a look at a couple of case studies.  Two chimpanzees, Washoe and Nim Chimpsky, were involved in research in the 60s and 70s designed to see if chimpanzees could acquire human language if raised as human children.  We'll look at the results of these experiments and see how they were flawed.

Toward the end of the week, we'll revisit what we mean by Grammar - both prescriptive and descriptive,  and we'll lay the groundwork for a discussion about Universal Grammar next week.  Should be fun!

It's been a fantastic start to this course, and I'm really thrilled with the results we've had this week.  I'm proud of all of you - keep it up!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Welcome to Linguistics!

Welcome to the first ever course in Linguistics at R.L. Paschal High School!  I will use this blog to discuss what we have been working on in class, to provide you with links to further information that may help you in your work, and to post stuff that I find funny, however loosely related to the class.  Check in frequently or subscribe - this is the easiest way for me to communicate with you all!

Also, give me some feedback on what you'd like to see on this site.  I'm debating setting up an Edmodo.com page for this class.  What do you think?

First assignment:  In the comments, post your linguistic "pet-peeves" - the things people do in either written or spoken language that really bother you.  We will discuss them in class, but feel free to discuss them here as well!