Monday, October 09, 2006

Singing our language

Does our speech have natural musical patterns? Mark Liberman at the Language Log looks at the possibility in depth. And the analysis starts with Tigger and Eeyore.
I'm not 100% convinced by these plots; and also I think their selected examples might be stacking the deck a bit, since Eeyore is stereotypically (since the Disney movie, at least) someone who signals a depressed state by speaking almost in a chant, in which minor-third intervals are prominent. But still, this is really interesting stuff.

Yes, it is. I'm not sure I grasp everything in Liberman's piece, but I have noticed that professional speakers -- especially news casters and voice-over talent -- tend to have a sing-song style of speech, and that certain pitches and intonations are consistent with punctuation. A uptick here falls in line with a comma, a falling tone there matches with a period, a pause indicates a colon, and so on. Each speaker seems to have his own speech shape, and I sometimes listen to casual speakers to see if I can pick out similar patterns. I tended to think I was the only one that really noticed and pondered this. But it's nice to know I'm not.

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