How to listen without ears

Once in a while piece of new research will remind you that some things that seem a given are just not. Take for example this paper on a species of earless frogs listen with their mouths. As incredible as that may sound these frogs do indeed react to mating calls. In other words you don’t need ears to be able to take advantage of physical properties of sound.

We all know bats use sonar to hunt for prey in the dark and that dogs can hear high pitch sounds we can’t (think dog whistle). Even children can hear sounds that adults no longer can. As a parent I sat through a science show for kids once where they played sounds which my kids nonchalantly reacted to but I couldn’t hear at all. I literally heard nothing. It just goes to show much we rely on the “equipment” for the interpretation of the world around us.

The top award though must go to the mantis shrimp though. This animal can see 100,000 shades of colour, ten times more than humans. There obviously must be a need for it to be able to do so otherwise it would have become redundant and have been whittled out of the species through natural selection.

But opposite must be true too of the limited range of human-made sounds. A while back I wrote about the Japanese’s inability to distinguish between the ‘l’ and ‘r’ sound. In Japanese this distinction doesn’t exist. It isn’t necessary for their language and communication so they therefore need not either to bother hearing it or producing it. The moral of the story is the sounds within Japanese language more than adequately suffice for their need to communicate what they want to say.

There are two lessons here: one is that what counts as sensory perception and faculty is not so clearcut. And second, you don’t necessarily need to hear everthing, that is, our minds filters out things, to separate “the noise from the music” so to speak. And this has consequences for the development and acquisition of language which essentially is a manipulated layer over sound and sight.

metamorphosisyphus thesis

push along push up

boulders ever bolder 

no end in sight

a page at a time 

every single word 

is laborious 

as long as i am 

not rejected 

i will continue

incorrect syntax

the grammar police are here
and now i must ask for forgiveness
for my syns.
that i have to pay for in
syn-tax.

Va Va Black Sheep – difficult sounds for Japanese learners of English

The ‘v’ sound is perhaps one of the hardest sounds for my Japanese learners of English to master. It doesn’t exist in the Japanese language. And it is approximated with the ‘b’ phoneme.

Recent research has found that if the sound ‘va’ is matched with a video showing another sound made in the similar region like ‘ba’ the visual cues overrides auditory cue to register the “visual” sound. This is, according to the paper’s authors, a confirmation of the McGurk Effect which until now could not be explained.

So my students obviously haven’t been paying attention to my lips. It doesn’t help that I have forty students to teach which is why I use my iPhone camera and projector to show them how I am producing the ‘v’ and ‘b’ sounds. Now if only I can figure out how to show them the how I produce the ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds which are produced in the back of my mouth!

Is there such a thing as a camera which fits into my mouth? Are they called MouthCams? On second thought, gross.

‘Noli timere’ (Don’t be afraid)

Seamus Heaney’s last words – a text message – to his wife.

Only A Man of Pure Character, like Mr Heaney, could have written such beautiful poetry and say such gentle words even at the end. He will be missed by all but most by those who survived him – his wife and children. Thoughts to his family.

R.I.P. Mr Heaney.

AntConc Tutorials page updated

I have finally updated the AntConc Tutorials page. It is now called AntConc Basics. It summarizes the mechanics of using AntConc without unnecessary detail on how to analyse a corpus (I leave that up to you). It also comes with a two page PDF version. The online version also comes with a quick-reference guide to the main AntConc interface to help you get around.

All comments and suggestions are welcome.