Solution for December 2005

labelled spectrogram
"Happy Birthday, Peter Ladefoged!"

Okay, so as I said, this one breaks with established precedent. Contains a proper name, in fact mostly. And not a declarative sentence. In fact, not even a sentence. But in the context presented, I take this to be not impossible to decipher.

And it was for a special occasion.

Lower-case H
[h], IPA 146
For about 100 msec, starting about 50 msec, there's some noise up in the region of F3 and F4 of the following vowel. No voicing to accompany it, this looks like a voiceless fricative. It's not quite strong enough to be sibilant, and it doesn't have the "unfiltered" quality of an [f] or [θ]. Also the transitions into the following vowel are all wrong for that. In fact, there don't seem to be any. Coupled with the F3/F4 range the noise appears in, I'd say [h] is the most likely candidate.

[æ], IPA 325
This vowel has a very, very high F1, indicating a very low vowel. But the F2 is basically neutral, or a trifle higher than neutral. This can't be a back vowel. Which leaves precious few options, at least in my dialect.

Lower-case P
[p], IPA 101
Beginning around 225 msec and going on until the release at about 300 msec, there's a nice little gap--no resonances, no noise to speak of. Also no voicing (there's no striated organization to that noise, whatever it is, at the bottom). Check the transitions in the surrounding vowels. All point down toward the closure, classically bilabial.

Lower-case I
[i], IPA 301
This vowel is a trifle short, but it has a very distinctive spectrum. F1 is quite low, F2 is about as high as one is ever likely to see, and for those of you who believe in formant distnaces, F2 is 'tight' to F3. So we've got the F1 of a high vowel, and the F2 of a very front vowel. The F2 being well above 2000 Hz, and the total trajectory being toward the front, this looks like an [i] more than anything else.

Lower-case B
[b], IPA 102
There's another gap here but this one is clearly voiced through most of the closure duration. It's clearer on the left, transitioning from the preceding vowel, that the F2 and F3 transitions point downward, i.e. in the bilabial direction again. It's harder to tell on the right side, what with the noise and the short segment of voicelessness, but if you wish really, really hard, you might convince yourself. There's not a lot indicating anything else, at least.

Turned R + Syllabicity Mark
[ɹ̩], IPA 151 + 431
Perhaps my favo(u)rite American English vowel. The critical thing to notice is not the F1 frequency, but the fact that there are two clear bands of energy in the F2 range. Those are F2 and F3, and an F3 that low can really only be an American-style approximant [ɹ̩]. Well, not approximant, at least not in the usual sense of a consonant type, since this is a sonorant between two fairly obvious obstruents, and therefore a sonority peak (if you believe in those) and presumably therefore a vowel, at least functionally.

[θ], IPA 130
Well, this is a little confusing, but bear with me. The transitions into this fricative are consistent with a coronal. The F3 is returning to its neutral value, the F2 seems to head towards 1750 Hz or thereabouts. And the noise, such as it is, is present mostly in the high frequencies. So this is basically [s]-shaped. But there's no way there's enough energy for it to be an [s]. There's even less amplitude to this noise than there is in the [h] at the beginning. It's even less than the release noise of the stop that follows. So if this isn't sibilant, what is it? Frankly, this is the best-looking [θ] I've produced in a long time. Except that it's [s]-shaped rather than more clearly unfiltered.

Lower-case T
[t], IPA 103
Okay, first things first. Ignore the 'clunk' (that's a technical term) at 750 msec. I have an explanation for it, but it's a long shot. So ignoring the clunk, there's a gap here. There's no useful transitional information in the preceding fricative, so we're stuck with those into the following vowel. These don't tell us much, except that they don't look obviously bilabial or velar, and they are consistent with alveolar. Or coronal. So that's a working hypothesis, helped along by the clearly [s]-shaped (skewed to the high frequencies) noise of the release burst. (That's what I meant about the preceding fricative just not being [s]-like). So this is a voiceless plosive, almost definitely alveolar. Now that clunk. I think it has something to do with the transition between the theta (which for me is truly interdental) and the release of the release of the plosive (which for me is apical). There's probably a point where just a little bit of air escapes in between the laminal closure (since my tongue tip is busy between my teeth) and the apical release. TMSAISTI.

Lower-case E + Small Capital I
[eɪ], IPA 302 + 319
Well, if anyone asks if western US [e]s are really higher than mid, this is a great example. While not quite as low as for the previous [i], the F1 is still a little low. But it does move quite distinctly lowerward. The F2 starts out quite high, though not as high the previous [i], and moves distinctly higher. So this looks like a very front not quite high diphthong.

Lower-case P + Right Superscript H
[pʰ], IPA 101 + 404
Another voiceless gap. A good look at those transitions into it reveals those bilabial looking transitions. It's easier to see the transitions into the following vowel on this one, and they are also consistent with a bilabial. I've marked this one as aspirated, based on the fairly long VOT.

Lower-case I
[i], IPA 301
The F1 has gone low again, and the F2 is way up above 2000 Hz (at its peak) again. This pattern should be familiar.

Lower-case T
[t], IPA 103
This probably isn't phonetically a plosive so much as a voiceless and ever so slightly aspirated flap. Or tap, or whatever it is in English. The voiceless portion is close to 50 msec long, but the entire duration is a bit noisy in the higher frequencies. I'm suspicious of the change in the noise about half-way through the voiceless duration. I think we've got a very short, incomplete contact (hence the noise) followed by a portion of 'regular' voicelessness, i.e. VOT. But given that this is North American English, a voiceless flappy thing can't really be anything except a phonemic /t/.

Turned R + Syllabicity Mark
[ɹ̩], IPA 151 + 431
There's that low F3 again. Not quite as low as last time, but plenty low enough. With both the duration and the local amplitude to count as a vowel.

Tilde L (Dark L)
[ɫ], IPA 209
This is interesting. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought this was a nasal. It's fully voiced (compare the striated, low-frequency energy here with the noisy low-frequency band in the flappy thing and the first [p]. So this is voiced, and while there isn't much energy above, what there is is organized in formant-like bands. Overall amplitude is low, and there are largish bands with no energy in them. ANd there don't seem to be any other nasals in this spectrogram to compare them with. But there are clues that this isn't a nasal. First, there's no hint of nasality on the preceding vowel, which by itself is not strong evidence. But the decrease in energy is so great, it's odd that the 'edge' of the supposed nasal isn't 'sharper'. Usually nasals either look very 'abrupt' or look more coarticulated with at least the preceding vowel. The 'pole' is just above 1000 Hz, but the 'zero' below it isn't very well defined. Which again is not strong evidence, but something to be explained. So entertaining a hypothesis that this is something other than a nasal, what would it be. F1, if that's what you want to call it, is low. The F2 is that thing just above 1000 Hz (note the continuity with the F2 in the surrounding vowels). And the F3. The F3, in spite of being radically low for the preceding [r], rise sharply in the transition into this segment. On the other side, the F3 seems to fall from something higher than the 2500 Hz or so it ends up at in the following vowel. And this raised-from-neutral F3 is consistent with the noisy energy we see in this segment. So we have an oddly and otherwise inexplicably high F3 to contend with. And high F3s (and to a lesser extent F4s) are typically associated with laterals in English. So this is a dark /l/. By 'dark', I mean velarized, as all my English laterals seem to be, without intending anything about syllabic position.

[�E6], IPA 325
So here we have a relatively high F1, so we have a relatively low vowel. The F2 isn't doing much of anything. If it were lower, this vowel would look back. But it's not, so the other choice is front. Or frontish. As front as a quite low vowel can ever really get?

Lower-case D
[c], IPA 104
Again, this probably is a more of a flap than a proper plosive [d], but I tried. At least this one is a more standard looking flap, and actually voiced. It looks basically like a very, very short plosive, consistent with alveolar.

Barred I
[ɨ], IPA 317
I've transcribed this as a reduced vowel, given its relative duration, amplitude, and pitch to the previous vowel, which is definitely longer (though not a lot, given how low it is), stronger (darker) and higher in pitch (closer striations). If I had to give it a standard vowel symbol, I'd say [ɪ], that is something in between cardinal 1 and cardinal 2. The F1 idnicates something which is higher than mid, but not exactly as high as it could get. The F2 something rather front, but nowhere near the frontness of [i]. But as I said, this vowel is probably reduced, so spending too much energy trying to do something with it is probably unwarranted.

Lower-case F
[f], IPA 128
Well, starting around 1700 msec and going on until almost 1800 msec, we've got a fricative, surely, and mostly voiceless. It's got some formant structure to it, suggesting that it's resonating through the vocal tract. It's definitely not sibilant. So the most likely candidate is [h]. But I'd expect an [h] to ahve at least some energy in F1, and that's the one place where this fricative has no energy. So while [h] is probably the most obvious guess, it does need some explaining. So entertaining the possibility that it is something else, we're only really left with a couple of choices--labiodental and (inter)dental. And I can just convince muself that the transitions are more labial looking (pointing down toward the closure) than coronal looking. Although interdentals don't look always look particularly alveolar. Givne the more downward pointing transitions, I suppose [f] is the runner up. Keep this in mind when you try to make some kind of word--or name--out of this part of the spectrogram.

Lower-case O + Upsilon
[oʊ], IPA 307 + 321
Well, the F1 is pretty close to neutral (around 500 Hz) or just low of that, which tells us that we've got a fairly mid or just high of mid vowel. It's pretty flat, height-wise. over it's almost 150 msec duration. The F2 is less flat. It starts at about 1250-1300 Hz, where it sits for about half the vowel or so, and then starts to lower just a little. Now that doesn't seem to coincide with the transition in the F1, so I think that's a separate thing, and not just transition. So we've got something that is of constant height, mid or just above, that starts vaguely back and moves slightly further back. Or round. There's only a couple of choices, and the other one is more likely to move forward (i.e. towards central).

Lower-case G
[g], IPA 110
Another (weakly) voiced gap. At first glance it looks like it shas a fiarly clean burst, but if we look closer the noise seems to precede the burst ever so slightly. This is different from the preceding bursts, which are pretty sharp on their left sides. Also notice the low frequencies, which are weaker. In preceding bilabial bursts all had some energy down there. And the transitions into the next vowel are all wrong for bilabial. In fact it looks like F2 and F3 are awfully close together (I hesitated to say 'pinched' together) and move apart into the following vowel. So the absence of low-frequency release burst energy and the 'velar pinch' in the transitions suggest a velar.

Barred I
[ɨ], IPA 317
Well, this is another weak vowel. Given that it's the last vowel, and presumably lengthened by final lengthening, it's not amazingly long. So whatever you thought of the vowel before the last one, you might think here.

Lower-case D
[d], IPA 104
So we come to the end at last. A good gap as far as resonances go. Some decent voicing, considering the low frequency and amplitude of the striations (considering it's utterance-final quite good amplitude and duration of voicing during the closure. And a noisy release burst with energy biased to the very high frequencies. Definitely looks like an alveolar burst.

With thanks and admiration. Happy Birthday, Peter! -- RH