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Sonorant Acoustics. March 24, 2009. Announcements and Such. Collect course reports Give back homeworks Hand out new course project guidelines. On the Horizon. Today: acoustics of sonorants plus a perception experiment Thursday: more sonorant and stop acoustics

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sonorant acoustics

Sonorant Acoustics

March 24, 2009

announcements and such
Announcements and Such
  • Collect course reports
  • Give back homeworks
  • Hand out new course project guidelines
on the horizon
On the Horizon
  • Today: acoustics of sonorants
    • plus a perception experiment
  • Thursday: more sonorant and stop acoustics
    • plus an introduction to the motor theory of perception
  • Next Tuesday:
    • perception homework due
    • stop + fricative acoustics
  • Next Thursday:
    • Articulatory physiology
    • Static palatography demo
vowels and sonorants
Vowels and Sonorants
  • So far, we’ve talked a lot about the acoustics of vowels:
    • Source: periodic openings and closings of the vocal folds.
    • Filter: characteristic resonant frequencies of the vocal tract (above the glottis)
  • Today, we’ll talk about the acoustics of sonorants:
    • Nasals
    • Laterals
    • Approximants
  • The source/filter characteristics of sonorants are similar to vowels… with a few interesting complications.
obstruents and sonorants
Obstruents and Sonorants
  • Sonorants are so called because they:
    • allow air to flow freely through vocal tract so that resonance (of voicing) is still possible
    • = consonants that resonate
  • In contrast, obstruents:
    • obstruct flow of air through the vocal tract so much that voicing is difficult to maintain
    • include stops, fricatives, affricates.
  • Sonorants do restrict the flow of air in the vocal tract more than vowels…
    • but not as much as obstruents.
  • One interesting acoustic property exhibited by (some) sonorants is damping.
  • Recall that resonance occurs when:
    • a sound wave travels through an object
    • that sound wave is reflected...
    • ...and reinforced, on a periodic basis
  • The periodic reinforcement sets up alternating patterns of high and low air pressure
    • = a standing wave
damping schematized
Damping, schematized
  • In a closed tube:
    • With only one pressure pulse from the loudspeaker, the wave will eventually dampen and die out.
  • Why?
    • The walls of the tube absorb some of the acoustic energy, with each reflection of the standing wave.
damping comparison
Damping Comparison
  • A heavily damped wave wil die out more quickly...
  • Than a lightly damped wave:
damping factors
Damping Factors
  • The amount of damping in a tube is a function of:
    • The volume of the tube
    • The surface area of the tube
    • The material of which the tube is made
  • More volume, more surface area = more damping
  • Think about the resonant characteristics of:
    • a Home Depot
    • a post-modern restaurant
    • a movie theater
    • an anechoic chamber
resonance and recording
Resonance and Recording
  • Remember: any room will reverberate at its characteristic resonant frequencies
  • Hence: high quality sound recordings need to be made in specially designed rooms which damp any reverberation
  • Examples:
    • Classroom recording (29 dB signal-to-noise ratio)
    • “Soundproof” booth (44 dB SNR)
    • Anechoic chamber (90 dB SNR)


“soundproof” booth


anechoic chamber

inside your nose
Inside Your Nose
  • In nasals, air flows through the nasal cavities.
  • The resonating “filter” of nasal sounds therefore has:
    • increased volume
    • increased surface area
    •  increased damping
  • Note:
    • the exact size and shape of the nasal cavities varies wildly from speaker to speaker.
damping effects part 1
Damping Effects, part 1
  • Damping by the nasal cavities decreases the overall amplitude of the sound coming out through the nose.



damping effects part 2
Damping Effects, part 2
  • How might the power spectrum of an undamped wave:
  • Compare to that of a damped wave?
  • A: Undamped waves have only one component;
    • Damped waves have a broader range of components.
here s why
Here’s Why

100 Hz sinewave


90 Hz sinewave


110 Hz sinewave

the result
The Result

90 Hz +

100 Hz +

110 Hz

  • If the 90 Hz and 110 Hz components have less amplitude than the 100 Hz wave, there will be less damping:
damping spectra
Damping Spectra



damping spectra21
Damping Spectra


  • Damping increases the bandwidth of the resonating filter.
    • Bandwidth = the range of frequencies over which a filter will respond at .707 of its maximum output.
  •  Nasal formants will have a larger bandwidth than vowel formants.
bandwidth in spectrograms
Bandwidth in Spectrograms

F3 of

F3 of [m]

The formants in nasals have increased bandwidth, in comparison to the formants in vowels.

nasal formants
Nasal Formants
  • The values of formant frequencies for nasal stops can be calculated according to the same formula that we used for to calculate formant frequencies for an open tube.
  • fn = (2n - 1) * c
      • 4L
  • The simplest case: uvular nasal .
  • The length of the tube is a combination of:
    • distance from glottis to uvula (9 cm)
    • distance from uvula to nares (12.5 cm)
  • An average tube length (for adult males): 21.5 cm
the math
The Math

12.5 cm

  • fn = (2n - 1) * c
      • 4L
  • L = 21.5 cm
  • c = 35000 cm/sec
  • F1 = 35000
  • 86
  • = 407 Hz
  • F2 = 1221 Hz
  • F3 = 2035 Hz

9 cm

the real thing
The Real Thing
  • Check out Peter’s production of an uvular nasal in Praat.
  • Note: the higher formants are low in amplitude
  • Some reasons why:
    • Overall damping
    • “Nare-rounding” reduces intensity
    • Resonance is lost in the side passages of the sinuses.
  • Nasal stops with fronter places of articulation also have anti-formants.
anti formants
  • For nasal stops, the occlusion in the mouth creates a side cavity.
  • This side cavity resonates at particular frequencies.
  • These resonances absorb acoustic energy in the system.
  • They form anti-formants
anti formant math
Anti-Formant Math
  • Anti-formant resonances are based on the length of the vocal tract tube.
  • For [m], this length is about 8 cm.

8 cm

  • fn = (2n - 1) * c
      • 4L

L = 8 cm

AF1 = 35000 / 4*8 = 1094 Hz

AF2 = 3281 Hz


spectral signatures
Spectral Signatures
  • In a spectrogram, acoustic energy lowers--or drops out completely--at the anti-formant frequencies.


nasal place cues
Nasal Place Cues
  • At more posterior places of articulation, the “anti-resonating” tube is shorter.
    •  anti-formant frequencies will be higher.
  • for [n], L = 5.5 cm
    • AF1 = 1600 Hz
    • AF2 = 4800 Hz
  • for , L = 3.3 cm
    • AF1 = 2650 Hz
  • for , L = 2.3 cm
    • AF1 = 3700 Hz
m vs n
[m] vs. [n]





AF1 (n)

AF1 (m)

  • Production of [meno], by a speaker of Tsonga
  • Tsonga is spoken in South Africa and Mozambique
nasal stop acoustics summary
Nasal Stop Acoustics: Summary
  • Here’s the general pattern of what to look for in a spectrogram for nasals:
  • Periodic voicing.
  • Overall amplitude lower than in vowels.
  • Formants (resonance).
  • Formants have broad bandwidths.
  • Low frequency first formant.
  • Less space between formants.
  • Higher formants have low amplitude.
perceiving nasal place
Perceiving Nasal Place
  • Nasal “murmurs” do not provide particularly strong cues to place of articulation.
  • Can you identify the following as [m], [n] or ?
  • Repp (1986) found that listeners can only distinguish between [n] and [m] 72% of the time.
  • Transitions provide important place cues for nasals.
  • Repp (1986): 95% of nasals identified correctly when presented with the first 10 msec of the following vowel.
  • Can you identify these nasal + transition combos?
nasalized vowel acoustics
Nasalized Vowel Acoustics
  • Remember: vowels are often nasalized next to a nasal stop.
    • This can obscure formant transitions.
  • The acoustics of nasalized vowels are very complex.
  • They include:
    • Formants for oral tract.
    • Formants for nasal tract.
    • Anti-formants for nasal passageway.
  • Plus:
    • Larger bandwidths
    • Lower overall amplitude
  • The Chinantec language contrasts two degrees of nasalization on vowels.
  • Chinantec is spoken near Oaxaca, Mexico.
  • Check out the X-ray video evidence….
oral vs partly nasal
Oral vs. Partly Nasal
  • Note: extra formants + expanded bandwidth…
    • Tends to smear all resonances together in the frequency dimension.
nasal vowel acoustics
Nasal Vowel Acoustics
  • The smearing of vowel formants can obscure F1 (vowel height) differences
    • high vowels sound low
    • low vowels sound high
  • Note: American South “pen” vs. “pin”
  • French: [le] vs.
      • [lo] vs.

  • A tool which has been developed for studying the nasalization of vowels (and other segments) is the Nasometer.
  • The Nasometer uses two microphones to measure airflow through both the mouth and nose at the same time.
more nasometer
More Nasometer
  • The Nasometer spits out readings of the amount of air flowing out of the nose and the mouth at the same time.
    • nasal vowels: concomitant airflow through both mouth and nose
    • nasal stops: airflow only through nose