Monday, May 27, 2013

Timing, and speaking

Salon has an interesting article about time and timing (excerpted from, Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, a book by Claudia Hammond). Here's a passage about the time scale involved in speech:
To produce and understand speech, we rely on critical timings of less than a tenth of a second. The difference between the sound of a ‘pa’ and a ‘ba’ is all in the timing of the delay before the subsequent vowel, so if the delay is longer you hear a ‘p’, if it’s short you hear a ‘b.’ If you put your hand on your vocal cords you can even feel that with the ‘ba’ your lips open at the same time as you feel your cords start to vibrate. With the ‘pa’ the vibration starts a moment later. This relies on timing accurate to the millisecond. Even the timing between syllables can be crucial to a phrase’s meaning. With Jimi Hendrix’s lyric, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky,” just a fraction of a second difference in timing is what gives you the famous monde-green, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.”
There's evidence that this requires that speaker and listener must be muturally synchronized. Their nervous systems are coupled into a single oscillating system.

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