Solution for September 2005

labelled spectrogram
"Students complain a lot."

And calm down, this isn't directed at anyone in particular. It's just a paraphrase of something amusing somebody said to me in an e-mail. The original was too long and had too many approximants in it. Believe it or not, I think about these things.

So once again, before diving in, take a moment and work out some basics. How many syllables are we dealing with? Are there any cues that suggest where the lexical stresses and/or intonational accents and boundaries are? Any obvious segmental cues? Gaps? Sibilance?

Lower-Case S
[s], IPA 132
Speaking of sibilance, this is a typical sibilant. Quite high amplitude noise, here concentrated in the very high frequencies. This really can't be anything except an [s]. The amplitude, the frequency, and the single, broad band. And no voicing bar.

Lower-Case T
[t], IPA 103
Well, there's a gap here. It's short, but it's pretty distinct. It's voiceless, but then there's not much choice, considering this is still the onset of an utterance-initial syllable and the preceding consonant is [s]. Okay, so the release isn't really sharp, and tere's a hint of a double burst. But the double burst, if that's what it is, isn't in the F2/F3 range, so this probably isn't a velar. It could be bilabial, but the noise is all wrong. There's not a nice sharp, across-all-frequencies burst like I usually like to see with coronals, but that's what we're left with. So that noise up in the high frequency range is pretty interesting. It's not going to be another fricative, [s-t-(fricative)] not being a conspicuous onset in English, so that noise has to be release noise. And it's [s]-shaped, suggesting that the plosive is alveolar. If you're not sure why, think about where the noise following the release of a [t] would be generated, and where the noise of [s] is generated.

Barred I
[ɨ], IPA 317
I'm not 100% sure about this transcription. Let's go through the details. F1 is low, well clear of 500 Hz low, so this is a high vowel. The F2 is falling slightly. It starts at about 1600 Hz and drops to about 1400 Hz. So the F2 is around 1500 Hz, which is pretty much neutral territory. So this is vaguely central, moving very slightly back. Or round, but whatever. F3 is up where it's supposed to be, i.e. neutral as all get out. So high and central. But this is probably a stressed syllable. Remember that this is my voice, general western US English with particular shades of southern California. My /u/ isn't what you would call back. Or round, but whatever. Random fact about my dialect: /u/ and /ju/ neutralize after coronal stops. To something quite flat. Like this.

Lower-Case D
[c], IPA 104
Another gap, this time with a nice clear voicing bar. So this one is voiced. There's that same funny maybe-double-burst-thing-perhaps. There's not a lot else to the release, which is kind of troubling, but what there is looks like the other one, which was coronal. In the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, I'd say [d].

Lower-Case N + Syllabicity Mark
[n̩], IPA 116 + 431
Well, we've got a nice little amplitude peak here, about 100 msec long, but it doesn't quite look like a good vowel. The voicing is fairly strong, and there's a decent resonance un the low frequencies, but not much energy above. There's a hint of something at 1500 Hz, and there's more energy (but a little diffuse in frequency) in the F3 range, but all in all this is pretty weak. One might almost say zero. Which of course we associate with nasals. There's an antiresonance (or zero) sapping all the energy out of this thing. Could be some kind of weak approximant, but the resonances, such as they are, are wrong. So this is prbobably nasal. And the hint of energy at 1500 Hz suggests alveolar. There being obstruents on both sides, this is probably syllabic.

Lower-Case S
[s], IPA 132
And here we have another sibilant. Voiceless. and higher in the high freuencies, so this is another [s]. Now, it's voiceless. So eventually you'll have to decide whether it goes with the following syllable or the preceding. And there's a trick here. So look at the next segment and then we'll talk.

Lower-Case K + Right Superscript H
[kʰ], IPA 109 + 404
We've got a gap, followed by another sibilant looking bit of friction. But this one is more 'shaped'. If you look at the [s]s, they ahve one big broad band. This has a high-frequency band, something in F3, something in *F2*, and just generally looks filtered. So if we look closely at the F2 transition in the release noise, it starts a little high and drops. So while this is consistent with an alveolar relase, it doesn't look like the [t] release we had earlier. So what else could it be? Well, it's probably not bilabial, since the F2 transition is falling from above-neutral rather than rising from below. So the other choice is velar. Frankly this is ambiguous, so eventually we'll have to make a word out of it to know for sure.

Now here's the tricky part. This looks like aspiration. Depending on where you count from, the release noise is at least 50 msec long. This is an aspirated stop. So if the preceding [s] is part of this syllable, this should be an [s-(stop)] cluster, and there shouldn't be much in the way of aspiration. But if the [s] is part of the preceding syllable, it follows a syllabic [n] and is probably a plural marker or something (this being the second syllable of the utterance and therefore part of the subjec NP). But we'd expect a plural marker following a syllabic sonorant (a voiced sound) to be voiced, i.e. [z].

Now, I'm famous for devoicing my [z]s, but the result doesn't look quite as [s] like as this. The noise of [z]s is typically quite weak, compared to your average sibilant, even when devoiced. And devoiced [z]s are always (in my experience) seriously shorter than analogous [s]. And this [s] isn't. So this is an [s].

Eventually, you'll notice there's another hypothesis, that there's an underlying voiceless consonant in between the [n] and the [s]. Probably homorganic with the [n] (and coincidentally with the [s]). I'm not saying it deletes necessarily, but if you've been following these things for a while, homorganic nasal-stop clusters tend to have reduced stop phases. They look like [n]s (or whatever) with release bursts at the end. But instead of just releasing, there's an [s] to contend with. It would be nice if there were a nice little burst, but life ain't perfect.

Moving on.

[ə], IPA 322
Tiny short vowel, possibly a figment of my imagination. But I think there are a couple of nice clear periods of vowel just before 700 msec.

Lower-Case M
[m], IPA 114
This one is another nasal, for the same reasons the last one was. This one is bilabial, however, because the pole is around 1000 Hz, rather than 1500 Hz.

Lower-Case P + Right Superscript H
[pʰ], IPA 101 + 404
So there's tiny short gap around 800 msec, with a burst and a looong period of aspiration. The release doesn't look like the coronal bursts we saw before, and there's nothing remotely velar looking about the burst or the transitions (although the transitions are getting screwed around with by other things). The strongest noise in the release is impossibly low, which sometimes happens with bilabial bursts, but not usually a cue to be relied on. But here I'll take it.

Tilde L (Dark L) + Under-Ring
[ɫ̥], IPA 209 + 402
Well, the length of the aspiration is suspicious. Also the transitions are bizarre. Notice the F2. It's almost up at 3000 Hz. That's jusr freaking high. And teh F2, once the voicing kicks on, is incredibly low. The F1 fairly high too. The F1 tells us this is fairly open. The F2 that this is about as back as anything can get, considering the F1. And the F3 is *raised*. So this is a dark [l]. Laterals often have a raised F3 (or sometimes F4), and the velarization lowers F2. I don't know how general this is, but in most voices I've looked at, aspiration/voicelessness persists a lot longer when there's an approximant following than if there's just a vowel. Almost as if [-voice] is spreading wholly onto the next segment. Hmm.

Lower-Case E + Small Capital I
[eɪ], IPA 302 + 319
Well, that's what it is. The F2 target, if you believe in them) is wonked completely out of whack (or whacked completely out of wonk?) by the velarized [l]. The F1 starts out slightly high of mid and falls, so the vowel goes from not-high to high. The F2 ends up way front, so this is a fronting diphthong. And the F1 doesn't start quite high enough to be [aɪ], but with the [l] that could be a red herring. Here it's not, but it could have been.

Lower-Case N
[n], IPA 116
Teeny short little gappy thing, but voiced. Fully voiced, with a nice strong voicing bar and some resonance. So this isn't a standard flap, which is usually more plosive looking. If you abstract away from the length, or lack thereof, this coudl be a nasal. You can even see a little big of pole around 1400 Hz. Okay, it's a little lower than the previous [n], but close enough. Nasal flap. Remember it.

[ə], IPA 322
Another vowel. I notice now that I've misplaced the segmentation mark. I think the vowel here starts at the end of the flap, let's call that 1125 msec, but it's not quite, ad goes on to, well, let's call it 1175 msec. That's just short. And so probably reduced.

Tilde L (Dark L)
[ɫ], IPA 209
The peak of the 'constriction' or whater you call it is where I marked it, but as I said above, I think the contact starts much earlier than I've marked. But whatever. Somewhere in here, let's say between 1200 and 1300 msec, we've got another dark [l]. Ignore the indiscernable F1. F2 is low. F3 is still way high.

Turned Script A
[ɒ], IPA 313
I love that symbol. I don't know if this was really round but the F2 was a little lower than I expected. The F1 is high, so this is a very, very low vowel. And it's about as back and or round as it can get.

Lower-Case T
[t], IPA 103
I don't know if that last pulsey thing at 1600 msec is a glottal pulse or a closure transient, but it's the last evidence of anything for almost 100 msec of serious gap. So we have another plosive (stop) here. F2 transitions in the vowel look vaguely pinchy--but only because the F3 is returning to neutral from being raised, and the F2 is returning to neutral from being lowered. The release at 1700 msec definitely looks like a nice alveolar burst.