Tongue motion, it turns out, is crucial to the documentation of endangered languages.
And we haven’t even got to the ultrasound part yet.
Let me explain.
UC Santa Cruz researchers are working hard to document the Irish language. Even though it is an official language of Ireland and has considerable government support, it is highly endangered. Only 1.5% to 3% of the population regularly use it in their community, and its future is in doubt.
But one unusual feature of the Irish language is that every consonant comes in two varieties--one where the tongue is raised and pushed forward, and one where it is raised and retracted. So, one important goal of the researchers is to document this contrast--using real-time tongue imaging.
“We do this using a portable ultrasound machine which allows us to non-invasively capture video of the tongue's surface while it moves during speech,” says Padgett. “Analysis of this ultrasound data will also allow us to answer more general questions about speech production.”
The use of ultrasound in speech research is still in its early stages. Other ways of capturing tongue motion can be dangerous (x-ray video), or more expensive and less portable (MRI). To date, there are very few ultrasound studies of languages outside of English and other dominant languages, and there are none of Irish.
UC Santa Cruz, however, has just been awarded a $261,255 grant from the National Science Foundation to undertake a new project titled "Collaborative Research: An Ultrasound Investigation of Irish Palatalization.”
Click here to read the rest of the article on the UC Santa Cruz website.
Have a look at a brief ultrasound clip of the tongue movement in an Irish language speaker ...