The Vowel Space
January 4, 2016 2:52 PM   Subscribe

Vowels can be tricky to describe phonetically because they are points, or rather areas, within a continuous space...

You may enjoy the theory or you may simply enjoy clicking on what is, effectively, a vowel soundboard and making synthesized vowel noises.
posted by Wolfdog (17 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't need no computer to sit and make continuous vowel noises!
posted by Rangi at 3:23 PM on January 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


Okay, so the space of colours is rounded at the green "corner" because the red-green-blue boundary is actually the locus of pure spectral colours, and all the other colours in between are mixtures of them. So it's less like you drew a triangle and rounded off one corner, and more like you drew a continuous arc and then shaded in the "inside".

But why is the vowel diagram rounded at the "a" corner?
posted by a car full of lions at 3:29 PM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


fck vs
posted by wam at 3:30 PM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


not sure if i'm clicking the wrong thing, but the link only seems to play a fixed set of sounds. this site is a more general syntheizer, but it doesn't sound as good (and, annoyingly, the axes are switched).

(doesn't seem to work on firefox, sorry).
posted by andrewcooke at 3:35 PM on January 4, 2016


ovas? eaves?
posted by andrewcooke at 3:37 PM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've always been amazed by the richness of vowels in English accents. To my American ears, some English accents make every vowel sound like a diphthong.
posted by pravit at 3:38 PM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


But why is the vowel diagram rounded at the "a" corner?

FWIW, I've got a Ph.D. in linguistics and I've never seen a vowel diagram drawn as a parabola like that before. I wonder if the author was just being cute and making it look more like color space to make a point.

The vowel diagram at the top of the article, and the ones later in the article (e.g. the ones labeled "Jones" and "Wells"), are much more typical of how they tend to be drawn.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:39 PM on January 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


(Though actually even those aren't exactly like the way they're usually drawn, for a bunch of reasons that the author gives in the article.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:43 PM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


It should be possible to generalize this as a filter taking arbitrary signals, right? It would make for a pretty sweet synth if you could control location in vowel space with an X-Y pad.
posted by invitapriore at 4:23 PM on January 4, 2016


It should be possible to generalize this as a filter taking arbitrary signals, right? It would make for a pretty sweet synth if you could control location in vowel space with an X-Y pad.

Voder kinda did this out of necessity
posted by BungaDunga at 5:11 PM on January 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


ovas? eaves?

vowels, actually
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 5:17 PM on January 4, 2016


Is it really fair to say that referring to tongue position is pre-Galilean fantasy? For me, this is the only possible way to communicate *how to produce* vowel sounds. Talking about formants may be more precise, but it's only really useful for computers. I feel like I have pretty fine-grained control over my tongue, and going through the vowel map, it sure seems like position-space is pretty accurate. Any linguists want to weigh in?
posted by goodnight to the rock n roll era at 5:34 PM on January 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


This makes me reminisce on my time studying the Great Vowel Shift, still to me one of the oddest and awesome projects that humans have ever undertaken. "Hey guys, over the next 300 or so years, let's change the tongue height of a bunch of our long vowels and maybe turn a few into some diphthongs. Another way of putting it is: let's fuck up English spelling for our great-great-great-great-great lotsa greats grandchildren and all of their children and so on for generations to come. Who's with me?"

Crazy Middle Englishmen.
posted by ORthey at 7:17 PM on January 4, 2016


I'm not a proper hardcore phonetician, but I am a sociophonetician some days. I agree that the "pre-Galilean" thing is kind of strange, and not an analogy I'm familiar with. Sure formants are what make vowels sound distinct -- but what makes formants? Articulatory configuration, primarily tongue shape. I think of the articulatory (tongue) and acoustic (formant) properties of speech sounds as two sides of the same coin, not "the old-fashioned view" and "the modern view".

This is fun though, thanks for posting!
posted by somedaycatlady at 9:33 PM on January 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ooh!
posted by Segundus at 11:24 PM on January 4, 2016


Articulatory configuration, primarily tongue shape.

Yeah, that "primarily" is where it gets messy. Vowels can be roughly modeled using F1 and F2 space, and that F1 and F2 space broadly corresponds to tongue height and tongue backness, but not entirely. As he notes, lip rounding effects F2 in the same way as backing (round lips = lower F2; tongue back = lower F2), because what F2 is (broadly) reflecting is vocal tract length.

As a class activity, I have my students try and talk "as femininely as possible" and "as masculinely as possible" (with it being up to them to define "masculine" and "feminine"). (Cis) men tend to have larger vocal tracts then (cis) women, and thus, overall lower F2 values. So what do my students do to sound "more masculine"? They stick out their lips to increase the length of their vocal tract, and lower their F2 values!

Obviously, this entirely subconscious, but it points to "lower F2 by any means possible" as being a general thing your brain can pick up on and do, as opposed to "make vowels as back as possible". So, in that sense, a chart that graphs F1/F2 space, as opposed to tongue height/backness could potentially be a more accurate reflection of what's going on in speech perception/production. But all models are wrong, etc., and it's really a matter of what you want your model to do for you.
posted by damayanti at 6:20 AM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a class activity, I have my students try and talk "as femininely as possible" and "as masculinely as possible" (with it being up to them to define "masculine" and "feminine"). (Cis) men tend to have larger vocal tracts then (cis) women, and thus, overall lower F2 values. So what do my students do to sound "more masculine"? They stick out their lips to increase the length of their vocal tract, and lower their F2 values!

(And conversely, the advice on articulation that voice therapists give to trans women mostly amounts to "unround your lips and advance your tongue as much as you can get away with." Not necessarily because these are things that cis women do when speaking, but because doing them as a trans woman raises your F2 closer to the cis women's average.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:15 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


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