By Fasold R., Connor-Linton J.
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Extra resources for An Introduction to Language and Linguistics
And the speaker, of course, is the musician, changing the shape of the column of air to modulate the sound produced. Thinking about speech sounds in this way is called the source-filter theory of speech production. This is how it works. As air passes out of the trachea and over the vocal folds, if the speaker holds them in the correct position, the folds begin to vibrate. They flap open and closed at a frequency between about 100 times per second (for a large adult male) and 300 times per second (for a child).
But on top of this basic flapping motion, there are many different subripples in the moving vocal folds. Think of sheets flapping in the breeze on a laundry line; they don’t flap stiffly up and down, but ripple in complicated patterns. Each of these little ripples contributes its own pattern of vibration to the sound, creating “overtones,” or harmonics, in addition to the basic pitch of the speaker’s voice. The basic rate of vibration, the fundamental frequency, determines the pitch, but the overtones create the different qualities of different sounds.
You can’t see the tongue as it’s moving around inside someone’s mouth; you can’t see the sound waves traveling through the air; you can’t see the vibration of the fluid in the inner ear. Since ancient times, however, phoneticians have made the best of the information they had access to, employing careful listening, measuring, modeling, and notation. In addition, more sophisticated devices have been developed within the past decades – devices such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), sonography, and digital acoustic analysis.