In this lovely snippet, the text discusses the mechanics of the hearing process. Enjoy and please email with feedback!
Do we acquire language through the eye or the ear?
When you listen to someone speaking, you are not only taking in information from your hearing and auditory processing, but you are also watching them, their physical gestures and mouth movements. Without this capacity to combine the visual sense with the auditory, you would be limiting your ability to understand the information from the receptive language. This combining of information across the senses is called ‘intermodal perception’ or ‘intermodal co-ordination’. One example of this is your ability to understand who is speaking when you hear spoken language.
Most humans are much slower than a computer at numerical calculation or recalling numbers or facts, but humans far surpass computers at language related tasks. Pinker (1994) suggested that the ear, as miraculous as it is, acts like an ‘information bottleneck’ constricting the hearing process. In the 1940s engineers attempted to produce a reading machine for blind and partially sighted people, but discovered that merely isolating the phonemes in words and then sticking them back together again in an infinite number of ways to form words, was completely useless. As real speech is understandable at between 10-50 phonemes a second, this showed that it was not possible for you to ‘read’ speech in this way, at approximately three phonemes a second, (approximately the same speed as a ship’s radio officer ‘reading’ Morse code). To illustrate this, when we hear the tick of a clock we hear each individual sound, if this were speeded up to 20-30 ticks per second it would sound to the human ear, as a continuous sound, as the spaces between the ticks would be indistinguishable from each other.
Speech is a river of breath bent into hisses and hums by the soft flesh of the mouth and throat.
– (Pinker, 1994, p 163)
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