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Press Release 09-138

Classifying "Clicks"

New language technology clears up 100-year-old mystery

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Two people in chairs and the words Audio Slideshow

Follow linguists in this audio slideshow as they unravel the mechanics of exotic African click languages before these languages go extinct.

Credit: Lisa Raffensperger, National Science Foundation

 

New high-speed, ultrasound imaging could change how linguists describe "click languages."

New high-speed, ultrasound imaging of the human tongue potentially could change how linguists describe 'click languages' and help speech scientists understand the physics of speech production. Here, Ouma Hannie Koerant, a speaker of N|uu, a severely endangered click language spoken by fewer than 10 people in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, prepares to have her mouth and tongue imaged as she pronounces N|uu words. The ultrasound stabilization headset anchors an ultrasound probe in the same spot under her chin throughout the recording session.

Credit: Johanna Brugman, Cornell University, and Bonny Sands, Northern Arizona University.


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Portable, high-speed, ultrasound equipment allows linguists to see tongue movement during clicks.

High-speed, ultrasound imaging of the human tongue helped linguists precisely categorize sounds produced by the N|uu language speakers of southern Africa's Kalahari Desert. The equipment allowed speech scientists to see the entire movement of the tongue during the production of clicks in ways that previous imaging tools could not.

Credit: Credit: Johanna Brugman, Cornell University and Bonny Sands, Northern Arizona University.


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