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Thread: Natural, temporary, common speech impediments

  1. #1
    Почтенный гражданин xXHoax's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Natural, temporary, common speech impediments

    I'm not exactly sure if I have any singular, good question behind this post; I just want to open some sort of discussion on the topic of how certain daily events, or even life events, can affect speech. Naturally, most, if not all of these, when speaking my native language English, have an entirely unnoticeable effect on my intelligibility, naturally, however when speaking Russian (very particularly, when trying to roll an эр well), I find certain things make the conditions in my mouth more... difficult.

    -Drinking milky beverages, like some coffees. Somewhat similarly, eating very highly fatty foods, I think, has an equivilant... "clogging" effect; making эр's much less sharp [at least for me, but what about natives?], and the act of articulating Russian consonant clusters becomes distinctly blurred and muddled, to the extent that, without the effect, I might be considered "without much accent", whereas with the effect "unmistakably strange and totally a foreigner". ль stands out as a difficult sound to make clearly under this condition (at least, in the flow of a word, and sentence)

    -Incredibly tired voice, mainly in the early morning. This doesn't tend to afflict me in any way, except I do have to do some absurd, strong trills to break my tongue back into making Russian r sounds, which I assume, interestingly, natives would not have to do. [Btw, hard ръ is what I'm talking about, soft рь seems utterly unvaryingly straightforward, since I don't try to do any odd, fancy trills on a soft р, just a tap]

    -Another interesting food-for-thought is retainers (used to keep teeth straight after the removal of braces). The one I had was designed with an unfortunately placed *hump* from the top teeth to the back of the alveolar ridge, completely changing the shape of my mouth and subsequently the sounds pronounced therefrom. I found, among many things, it completely restricted pronunciation of soft consonants, making them sound... wholly alien, as if produced from a totally different kind of mouth, which they basically were. The hard-soft distinction become impossible to articulate. I just find it interesting that some person designed that retainer with Russian phonology specifically not in mind... I wonder what a Russian orthodontist would give people. English pronunciation was lispy for a day or two before something other than me adapted to the change. An entire section of vowel sounds was cut out, so if I tried to speak a language with more front close vowels, I'd be completely unable to make them. The tongue goes to the normal spot and hits a wall, so the vowel chart is distorted into an inhuman, unrecognizable mess, yet, after time, perhaps listeners could acclimate to such warped speech, unconsciously applying some sort of reverse function to unwind the words back to their normal form.

    -Swedish has, to some extent, tones in its words. Once I was pretty sick with a sore throat and had some trouble speaking. English - totally fine, just took effort. But the second I tried to say "riktigt" in Swedish, which, as I understand it, has a high tone on the first
    syllable, -- something about trying to roll an r, mixed with a high pitch, close-front vowel-- it felt like I ripped my throat in half. It actually managed to be impressively painful.

    Now, I'm sure some amount of these things could be chalked up to my being a learner, rather than relaxed experienced native, but at some point it makes me wonder if, on some insignificant level, some man on the other side of the planet, experiencing a similar effect, is having an ~especially~ more difficult time speaking to the people around him, simply due to his speaking a certain tongue.

    It is just interesting to me, that if someone is for example chewing gum, you could theoretically consider them as having a temporary accent, and you could accurately examine, determine, and list out the exact phonological changes their speech undergoes due to gum chewing, AND THEN, if you did the same thing with a different language, you'd get *completely different results*!

    How would you say these kinds of states affect your speech as natives or learners? Also, the way such states vary in effects from language to language is interesting; could certain languages be "more robust" against these things or is it entirely based on habitual comfortability in speaking a given language.

    Also, on a hardly related note, [unconscious] typos (sort of like finger-based speech impediments) seem to be utterly different when a native speaker types versus a foreigner! One could probably tell to striking accuracy, whether or not a sample of text was written by a native, just by looking at where and what the typos are. This would be incredibly hard to test and probably wildly unreliable, but it brings into question what typos really are inside of a person's brain, almost as if some part of them knows they made a typo but knows it isn't a critical one so it lets it slide. More likely however, it is an exact equivalent to tongue muscle memory, but with fingers, where a mistake commonly made in the patterns of native language typing gets made in the flow of a different language-pattern, so it isn't one that would occur quite as naturally.

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    Властелин iCake's Avatar
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    That's an interesting read. I won't even try to pretend I can give a qualified opinion on that. All I can say is that having some foreign object in one's mouth will definitely impede one's speech to varying degrees, based on how invasive that object is. This, however, brings back memories or rather a memory that might be very well related to what we're discussing here. I remember a native English speaker, an English teacher, living in a foreign country as a permanent resident, saying that there was one thing that had always struck him as odd. He, as a language teacher, made some observations about native speakers of the language spoken in the country he lived in. He, with a lot of excitement said this: "We have this common bathroom in the University I work at. A lot of teachers come there to brush their teeth after lunch and they all speak to each other while doing that and they can still understand each other very well even though in no way the can articulate like that." Keep in mind, I can't really recall the exact wording but the meaning. So, yes, I think it's clear that "temporary accent changes" as you put it would be more or less the same between native speakers under somewhat similar circumstances.

    As for different food affecting your pronunciation... I highly doubt that. Some fruit could theoratically do that, like хурма, sorry I have no idea what the word for it is in English. Anyway, that fruit can often cause a feeling that all the cells in your mouth have suddenly shrunk Yeah, it can be a bit difficult to talk like that, not impossible though.

    As for illnesses that affect your nasopharynx in some way... Yes, that will definitely affect your pronunciation, especially when it comes to nasal "problems" as the air flow might be somewhat hindered. Also alchohol, that will probably ruin your speech the most.

    Other than that, I think you're trying to read too much into it. All of pronunciation "problems", when speaking a foreign language, come to just this, the language being foreign. When speaking your native language you don't have to think about how you should move your tongue, what emphasis you should put on words, how you should change yor pitch, etc... You just speak, all of that is just embedded deeply in your brain and in your muscle memory. When it comes to your second language, you have to keep track of all that. Essentially your tongue must move differently and you must control it, you have to watch your grammar, your intonation. In other words you're extensively multi-tasking and eventualy it exhausts you both mentally and physically. That's the case with me at least. While I could mantain my "English mode" pronunciation for a few hours, I would inevitably switch it all back to the familiar "Russian mode" bit by bit the longer I talked. It just was way too much load for me to not crumble under Yes, it would progressively become easier and easier for me, up to the point where I couldn't draw a line between the two languages any more, but that's a very slow process that requires constant upkeeping. Unfortunately most language learners don't have the luxury of having a lot of people they can often talk to in their targeted language.

    It's very interesting that you also mentioned the difference between "native" and "learners" typos. I never really thought of it this way, but I can agree that you can often realize who wrote something by noting where they made their typos or more like analizing their typos. I, for one, often don't type an "s" in plurals, even though I had a proper plural in mind. I don't have the faintest idea why this happens though.

    Again, a very interesting read. I just wonder why you really raised these questions in the first place. Is this just something you try to analize and maybe pick up a few useful things from or do you want to completely lose your accent when speaking Russian/Swedish?
    xXHoax likes this.
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    If you've spotted any mistake in my English, please, correct it. I want to be aware of any mistakes to efficiently eliminate them before they become a habit.

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    Почтенный гражданин xXHoax's Avatar
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    Oh, I absolutely recognize that none of this really has any effect on the world in any way; it's just to think about and question. But also, these questions could offer small insights into how the human brain understands and produces language; and that's pretty cool.

    Also, perhaps, by asking these questions we can learn just how deep the process of fully losing an accent really goes.

    The part about food may be due to something that was talked about in a previous thread, about relaxed tongue placement, where Russians versus Englishmen rest their tongues varies(Russians low and at the bottom teeth, English pushed up and more at top teeth). Perhaps, this is non coincidental, and certain tongue "stances" prime us better for speaking under the various conditions, and since I speak with an English stance, even though with fine Russian pronunciation, I regardless find trouble in ways natives wouldn't. I would agree, while speaking one's mother tongue, no difference will be noticed,, "fish do not know what the water is",, and whatnot.

    Psychology.
    -This story I should preface with the fact that I have never in my life before this event had a headache... from anything, only in years after did I, and they came from coffee withdrawal; what I mean to say is, I am abnormally incredibly UN-inclined to having headaches. However, when first learning Swedish, about which I am and was much more casual than Russian, I spent sometimes 6 to 7 hours at a time in a skype call with about 5 swedish people, who all spoke some or a lot of English. We occupied that time playing games, which essentially acted as menial filler tasks to pad the ""conversation"". However, as things go, the day would go on and the group would shift more and more away from speaking English to speaking Swedish. I was okay with this, I wanted it even, to hear more native speech.
    At that point in time, I spoke no Swedish; I had learned well the sounds that made up Swedish, and could discern to an extent what sounds were being made at me; however, those sounds only just usually formed distinct words for me, and never did I make out any words whose actual meanings I recognized, besides, naturally, the occasional "Jag" (I), which, as one can imagine, being it outside of a pragmatic context, gave no consolation of internalizing meaning to my weary linguistically exiled brain. What I noticed, was that after the many hours of mental exile, that is to say, being *lingually* shut out from the conversation, quite literally, alone in a crowd, I felt over me came a powerful fatigue, unlike any other feeling I'd ever felt. Entirely in my head, it wasn't any pain, like a headache, just a powerful, perhaps unironically *deafening* fatigue, through which the only thought that could form was "get to English". The constant bombardment, the extended period of "active confusion" eventually wiped out some reserve of attention I had. Now one would probably just say "You were obviously tired from using your brain for so long in that specified manner", and yes, you'd probably be right, that is pretty much exactly -all it is-, but what is interesting!- is how specific that tiredness was to the particular part of the brain I was using. I did not want to sleep, not to relax, not to eat, but yearn to *hear things I can understand*.

    An interesting thing to tie to this story, is the way I have seen my peers, who are utterly uninterested in languages, become suddenly violently repulsed by any exposure to speech they can't understand. Some people I know find it unbearable to... "waste" anything more than a few seconds on, for instance, listening to a song in a language they don't speak.

    About slurring and still being understandable: -I've found, in my very own speech, certain more common phrases can be slurred and boiled down to an atrocious extent and still be perfectly recognizable, if at least slurred loudly.

    One such phrase would be: "I don't know"
    Once shortened to "Idunno", all the consonants can just be, in a way, debuccalized, or loosened into oblivion, so that the phrase can come out as some abomidable series of muddy vowels:
    ãâò. For the life of me I couldn't write it, it's like the I-u-o sounds together, all weirdly almost partially nasalized.

    This may be a pretty set phrase, but the process by which we got to this strange pronunciation can theoretically be extended to include an entire sentence:
    /a~uh~o-wá~~yr~a~i~a~où'/ (I have personally said this exact... sound...)

    This flows into the ears of the listener and gets massivley postprocessed to an assumed result:
    "I don't know what you're taking about"

    Another random story even more off track: Sometimes I call people a "kime"... What is a kime, you ask? Nothing. Literally nothing. It isn't a word as anyone knows it. Yet magnificently, people become very offended when called it. I've only tested this in English settings, but it would be interesting to see how different speakers react to a fake word like this. For example, what series of sounds would function better in Slavic languages, as a fake swear.

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    Властелин iCake's Avatar
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    I get a feeling you took my wondering about the nature of these questions as "why the hell you care?". No, I was just curious, after all I used to ask myself similar questions when trying, and trying is the word, to get rid of my accent back in the day. Nothing this profound though, but still in the same "realm". So I thought that you maybe had picked up this same grand idea of losing your accent. It's not that I disapprove, quite the contrary actually and anyone who has managed to do away with their foreign accent would immediately earn my respect for what it's worth. In my abovementioned "trying" I did come to the conclusion that learning how to speak a different language native like is indeed possible, but that's such a complex matter that it's not really worth pursuing and is one of those things that can't be done on your own, you will absolutely need a lot of outside help to achieve this, unless you're some kind of uniquely talanted prodigy. Talking about how complex it is exactly is not really the topic in hand and it'd take a lot of page space to elaborate on it. Suffice it to say that even knowing what I was getting myself into having decided to try and get a good English accent, I never thought that there'd be so many obstacles on my way and it'd be way more than just learning how to pronounce sounds or even words properly.

    Now it comes to that specific tiredness you mentioned. I think I might have experienced something similar if not the same, but the cause was a bit different, it was actually my little accent reduction quest. I've literally never undertaken a task with so many unknowns before. "Did I pronounce this correctly? I think I did, I did the right tongue movement after all. Let's record it and examine side by side with native speech. Ah... My voice is so different it's so hard to compare... If I only I had someone to consult with, to check my work. Blah, Blah, Blah..." All of that was driving me crazy, made me so nervous, antsy, eventually woozy. Not having a single tangible thing to grasp at was excruciating. After each instance of such study I felt like all around me was nothing but a long echo, I felt heavy headed, disconnected, all I wanted is to find something familiar that would help me put it all back together, return to reality. Now that I think of it, maybe it was not so different from what made you so tired. Both of us felt lost.

    Anyway, that aside I can actually relate to inventing funny words and calling people names with it. It actually works like a charm, I used to do that when I was a kid. I think people's reaction to such stimuli is very natural though. People don't like things they can't understand, they're first reaction is like: "I don't know what it is, but it can't be good. Get away from me". Funny enough people actually quite often said this to a simple question like: "Do you even know what it is?"

    - No! Shut up already

    I guess this can very well be the reason for people not liking being exposed to speech they can't understand, repulsed even.

    As for slurring some phrases. Well, just try to slur something that's not like a set phrase or at least something you can hear very often from literally everyone, a passage from some book for instance. I bet no one will really understand you, at best they'll have fragmented understanding. The human brain excels at forming patterns, then recognizing them, a database of sorts if you will. That's why we often see something familiar in some peculiar conjuctions of different objects forming an image to us. Like a big face on a mountain top, a sheep made of clouds etc... I believe it's natural that our brain functions like that, this imprints based logic can save a lot of processing power.
    xXHoax likes this.
    I do not claim that my opinion is absolutely true.
    If you've spotted any mistake in my English, please, correct it. I want to be aware of any mistakes to efficiently eliminate them before they become a habit.

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