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Spectrograms of the syllables ba-da-ga in natural speech.

Hand-painted spectrograms of the syllables ba, da, ga.
The ba–da–ga pitch continuum of F2 is divided into 14 steps instead of three.
The two parallel regions of black indicate regions of energy concentration, F1 and F2.
Notice that the onset frequency of F2 of da is higher than that of ba; and the onset
frequency of F2 of ga is higher than that of da. Only stimulus 14 represents its full duration.
(Replayed in the accompanying sound file).

The reader may listen online to the sequence of syllables represented in this figure, and to the sequence of isolated second formant transitions from an unpublished demo tape by Terry Halwes ("Formants" are concentrations of overtones that uniquely identify vowels. "Formant transitions" are the rapid change in frequency of a formant for a vowel immediately before or after a consonant, and give information about the vowel and the consonant simultaneously). See whether you can hear a gradual change between the steps, or a sudden change from /ba/ to /da/ to / ga/. Halwes then isolates the second formant transition, that piece of sound which differs across the series, so as to make it possible to listen to just those sounds alone. One may discern two main perceptual differences between the two series. First, in the ba-da-ga series we hear no pitch differences, whereas in the chirp series we hear gradual pitch change, even though the latter series is excised from the former one. Secondly, most people who listen to that series of chirps report hearing what we would expect, judging from the appearance of the formant transition: upward glides, and falling whistles displaying a gradual change from one to the next.


Isolated second formant transitions

Demonstrating Overtones and Formants

Vowels can be uniquely identified by concentrations of overtones called formants. Formants in phonetics are concentrations of overtones one above the other. An overtone is one of the higher tones produced simultaneously with the fundamental and that with the fundamental comprise a complex musical tone. Overtones determine the sound colour (timbre), by which one may distinguish, e.g., between the same melody played on a violin or a flute. Likewise, the formants determine the unique vowel colour of each vowel. In Tibetan and some Mongolian singing, this complex musical tone may be separated, so that the fundamental and the overtones are heard playing different melodies at the same time, continuously changing the voice quality. The following presentations by Anna-Maria Hefele demonstrate two issues relevant to our business: 1. one may hear simultaneously the fundamental and the overtones, separated; 2. one may hear the relationship between overtones and vowel formants: Anna-Maria Hefele produces these overtones by continuously shifting the shape of her mouth between [i] and [u]. Some phoneticians found that overtone singing is a powerful pedagogic tool to have students of phonetics realize the psychological reality of formants in generating vowels, rather than a mere diagram.

Demonstration 1

Demonstration 2

Metre, rhythm and emotion in poetry
A cognitive Approach

Shakespeare: Sonnet 128, line 14:
Sonnet 128.14

Listen to Gielgud 1

Listen to Gielgud 2

Sir Ralph Richardson reads excerpts
from Blake's "The Tyger"

Tyger excerpt.jpg

Listen to the excerpt

Listen to "And what shoulder, and what art"

Listen to "What dread hand? and what dread feet?"


The sequence used in the following demonstration by Al Bregman consists of three high and three low tones, alternating high and low tones. When the cycle is played slowly, one can clearly hear the alternation of high and low tones. When it is played fast, one experiences two streams of sound, one formed of high tones, the other of low ones, each with its own melody, as if two instruments, a high and a low one, were playing along together.

Listen to Al Bregman's demonstration

Click here for the sound files for the chapter:
Metricalness and Rhythmicalness
What Our Ear Tells Our Mind

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