Author Archives: bflood7174

The Vanishing of Accents

Have you ever stopped to think about accents? I’m not talking about accents we use to create emphasis on syllables or words, but in terms of the way a specific nation pronounces a language. It’s important to note that accents aren’t the same as dialects. An accent is all about how people sound. A dialect encompasses the idea of accents, but it extends farther by touching on the particular grammar a person uses when talking. A great example is the word “y’all”, which tends to be used by Southerners in the United States. The use of the word “y’all” would be a Southern dialect, while the word “southern” is the accent.



Simple enough, right? The world has many languages so it’s only reasonable that we have many accents. But did you ever stop to wonder why a German girl singing “I Will Always Love You” doesn’t sound any different (accent wise) from an american singing “I Will Always Love You”?  In the video from the link above, Laura, a little girl from Germany, appears to have an American accent while she sings. However, this is not the case. If you had talented singers from around the world singing the same American song, and you were unable to visually see them, it would probably be quite hard, to nearly impossible to figure out which voice was from where. This is all because of phonetics, and how singing causes two main things to occur: a change in our vocal cord’s air pressure, and the pace of our delivery.

A person’s accent is lost by the slower paced delivery of the song, which causes one’s accent to turn neutral. Accents, for the most part, disappear when singing. David Crystal, a linguist from Northern Ireland, explains that our intonations and rhythm of speech are removed while singing. A song’s melody causes the rises and falls of our voice to disappear (intonations) while the beat of the music causes the systematic arrangement of speech to disappear (rhythm). Furthermore, songs have accented syllables (no pun intended) that require the singer to elongate vowel sounds. This same neutralizing effect happens with air pressure as well. A singer’s whole quality of sound is altered by the expanding of enlarged air passages.


Despite recognizing that accents don’t usually come through in songs, some people still argue that singers are getting rid of their accent on purpose. Discourse & Communication researcher Andy Gibson, from Auckaland University of Technology in New Zealand, disagreed. He explained that neutralizing the accent simply comes more natural than anything else. In a study he conducted, singers with accents when speaking weren’t even aware that any change was occurring in their voice, but there were very few cases where vowels they sung matched the vowels they spoke.

So why is it, then, that little Laura appears to have points in the song that sound less like an American accent? We can assume this is similar to Gibson’s study. While his participants had very few moments that their vowel sounds while singing matched up with their vowel sounds while speaking, they still had instances where their accent snuck through. In fact, it’s actually harder for a singer to attempt to retain their accent while singing, though some still do this anyways.


Thinking about all of this makes me wonder about how kids differ from adults once again. We established in class that kids make all of the sounds in speech, regardless of their native language, which enables them to learn languages more easily than adults. Does that make it easier for kids like Laura to have their accents disappear when singing, even if they can’t actually speak the other language? In my mind, kids would be better at imitating the musical notes; therefore, able to neutralize their voices more effectively. Perhaps, though, this would only occur for those kids who were musically inclined.

Art of Ventriloquism

Jeff Dunham, do you know him? Doesn’t sound familiar? He sells out pretty much every arena he’s ever performed in; racked in $38,000,000 dollars on ticket sales alone in one year. No, he’s not a musician…He’s a ventriloquist; a person who is able to “throw his voice” so that it sounds like it’s coming from somewhere else, specifically from a dummy. Sounds simple enough, right? At least, in terms of what he does. But what’s really happening during a ventriloquist act is not just the normal ways of communication in every day life. One could say that, for people like Dunham, there’s a whole different type of speech generation involved with the language of a ventriloquist.

In a broad sense, there are three important components of speech that every human uses, no matter what their profession: respiration, phonation, and articulation. Respiration comes from our lungs by increasing their capacity. This decreases the air pressure, which causes us to breathe in. Phonation is when the energy produced from the air flow becomes audible. This is due to the different forms of cartilage in the larynx that rotate to cause vocal folds. Lastly, articulation occurs when vocal tracts near the larynx change in shape by making movement of the lips, tongue, or jaw.


Different Structures of the Vocal Tract 

So what’s unique to a ventriloquist? In class we discussed how we (as americans) tend to think that people speaking another language are talking really fast, despite English being one of the fastest languages spoken. This is because we don’t perceive there to be any gaps between their words. Although there aren’t any gaps in English either, we still feel like we hear the gaps due to knowing the speech segmentation of the English language, which allows us to decide where words and sounds begin and end. When watching a ventriloquist perform, a similar thing happens.

Similar to how we feel listening to someone speak in a different language!

Similar to how we feel listening to someone speak in a different language!

Since the ventriloquists’ illusion depends on their audience being fully drawn to the “voice” of the puppet, they must make sure to keep their mouths as still as possible. As we know, though, there are just certain letters that require the use of our lips. The trick is, ventriloquists create substitutions for letters “b”, “f”, “m”, “p”, “q”, “v”, and “w”. For instance, the letter “b” is substituted with the sound “geh”. This sound substitution is done quickly, which causes our brain and ears to automatically fill in the missing letter; the same way our brain and ears create gaps between words and sounds. A better example that was also discussed in class, is when someone coughs while the teacher is lecturing. The cough blocks out the sound of a particular letter in a word, but our brains are able to fill that letter in so that we think we heard it being pronounced.

We find people like Jeff Dunham to have entertaining talents, but now we know there’s a lot more to it than them keeping their mouths still. Knowing this now, it’d be interesting to watch a performance and focus on the ventriloquist to see if the substitutions can be recognized. I wonder if it would be harder to tell they aren’t saying the actual letters if the ventriloquist had a normal conversation where he/she used the substitutions, but allowed their mouths to move? Even if we can establish the substitutions, I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard at all to make our minds switch back to the illusion that continues to entertain us.

Those Who Never Forget

If you had the ability to remember everything you’ve ever done, heard, or seen, would you want it? Do the advantages outweigh the potential risks to having such an ability? When thinking academically, would it be a wonderfully resourceful tool to have in order to guarantee yourself good grades? However, everyone has moments they wish to forget, wish to put behind them without ever contemplating it again. It seems normal for one to believe that having a perfectly intact memory isn’t possible, but a condition known as hyperthymesia goes against this idea.

Hyperthymesia is a neurological condition (first described by researchers from the University of California) where a person is able to remember pinpoint specific details, such as, where they were on August 12th, 2002, along with what they were wearing and what they did, what current events were happening on the given date, and the specific day of the week it was (which, in my mind, appears to be what makes the condition believable). This condition also goes by the names of the Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and Hyperthymesia Syndrome due to the fact that the handful of people capable of this ability are only able to remember things pertaining to their own life. So far there are only 20 known people who have been diagnosed with hyperthymesia, and it is assumed that 23 year old Aurelien Hayman is the only person in Great Britain to have been born with the extraordinary condition.

“It’s like being able to access something in a filing cabinet very quickly.”

Hayman had told interviewers that there’s no special technique to recalling his past with such specificity; it’s all done subconsciously. Unlike the average human who uses retrieval from the long-term memory, which is in the right frontal lobe of the brain, it has been said that Hayman uses the right frontal lobe along with the left frontal lobe (the part of the brain in charge of language) and the occipital lobe in the back of the brain (the part of the brain in charge of storing pictures). Because of this, he is able to have an increased capacity for stored information. According to Hayman, “it’s a very visual process, there’s a sequence of images” that just seem assigned to certain dates. However, Hayman did acknowledge the fact that it is an autobiographical memory, and that it doesn’t seem to give him any advantages in schooling.

So what separates people with what appears to be exceptional memory from those with hyperthymesia? The latter do not use any tactical approaches to recalling certain details, which can be seen through Hayman. Whereas, people with just exceptional memory use tools like mnemonics to recall past events. Mnemonics are devices such as patterns of ideas, letters, or associations that aid in memory recall. It has been said that the amygdala (part in the brain that experiences emotions) is a crucial role to those with HSAM due to the fact that these individuals are evoking incidents from their past rather than using mnemonics. The Californian neurologists from the University of California explained that they believed “hyperthymestic individuals” to be able to involuntarily make associations with any date through visualizing dramatic effects of events.  However, there is speculation over whether or not this is true.


So would being able to have a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory be intriguing to you? If so, maybe it’s worth noting that another individual with the condition, by the name of AJ, explained that it’s like having a bunch of memories constantly filling up your head. AJ struggles with her condition so much that she claimed that it’s hard for her to focus on the present and the future since her mind is so conscious of her past. After considering this thought, it made me realize that I would hate the possibility of my brain fighting against me being involved in the present on a daily basis. There’s also the fact that I would be able to remember events that I would possibly want to forget. This being said, I’m intrigued to know if people who are capable of blocking traumatic events could ever be diagnosed with Hyperthymesia, or if hyperthymestic individuals  (unlike AJ) are at all capable of blocking events from their mind.

Woman with Super Vision

The article that I found falls into the category of cognition because of how it relates to the mental process of receiving knowledge through one of the five senses; our sight. The retina is the beginning of visual information processing, and it is here that light hits light sensitive cells known as receptors. These receptors are shaped like rods and cones (the rods being much bigger), and they are what turn the light into nerve impulses that are then transported to the cortex of the brain by the optic nerve.

Nearly everyone has three types of cone cells that distinguish different bandwidths of light. The combination of these signals determine the color we see reflecting off of an object. Despite the fact that our sensitivity to these cells differ from one another, one person’s perception of color tends to match the perception of others. It was thought that being color blind was the only anomaly to this process of color (people who have a hard time differentiating certain colors because of a faulty cone in the retina), but a theory has suggested that an extra cone could produce the opposite effect and allow a person to see multiple variations of the colors we already see. This fourth cone is seen in different animals, such as zebra-finches and goldfish.


The article is about a woman named Concetta Antico who has tetrachromacy; a genetic condition in which the development of the retinas is affected by a specific gene variation, and results in her having four cones. What may seem like a solid color to the rest of us, can appear to be a multitude of colors to Antico. For example, instead of a green leaf, she sees a green leaf with red hues tracing its edges. Instead of a dark gray shadow, she sees a shadow filled with “lilac and turquoise and blue”. Apparently, Antico can see 99 MILLION more hues than the rest of us who are stuck with trichromatic vision (three cones). Luckily, Antico is an artist. Through her paintings she hopes to give people a glimpse into her world of colors, allowing them to experience the beauty that they’re missing out on.

On the left is Antico's painting of what she sees. On the right is the same image, but to the normal eye.

Tetrochromatic Vision vs. Trichromatic Vision

The original article I found seemed very interesting and eye catching, but the actual information it gives about how our vision works didn’t seem to be strong enough evidence due to the little information it gave. However, I found a second article, that mentions the same woman, on that goes into great detail about tetrachromacy in humans, and the research behind it. This second article also gives more information about Antico; how grocery shopping is a nightmare because of all the loud colors, and how her favorite color is white because it’s the most calm, yet still beautiful.

I thought it was interesting that tetrachromacy is thought to be a condition only found in women. The thought process behind this is that our red and green cones are found in a gene that only lies on the X chromosome. Since women have two X chromosomes, they are able to hold two separate versions of this same gene. It’s estimated that 12% of the female population are tetrochromats.