Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A mere puff

Do people hear with their skin as well as with their ears? Henry Fountain has an article in the New York Times describing some research suggesting that indeed we do.
The researchers had subjects listen to spoken syllables while hooked up to a device that would simultaneously blow a tiny puff of air onto the skin of their hand or neck. The syllables included “ba” and “pa,” which produce a brief puff from the mouth when spoken, and “da” and “ta,” which don’t produce puffs. They found that when listeners heard “da” or “ta” while a puff of air was blown onto their skin, they perceived the sound as “ba” or “pa.”
The problem with this is that syllable initial voiceless consonants, including /p/ and /t/ are aspirated; that is, they produce a brief puff of air, whereas voiced consonants, including /b/ and /d/ are unaspirated. The error appears to be Fountain's; the abstract in the original paper gets it right.

[The article has since been corrected.]

1 comment:

Q Higuchi said...

This is most intriguing - thanks for this post.

You can also read/hear an interview of the article's author: