Scottish universities unlock accent secrets

Actors keen to mimic a particular accent could be helped by new 3D video footage showing what happens inside our mouths when we speak.

Picture: submitted

Researchers used ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging to record the inner workings of the human vocal tract when producing sounds.

Five Scottish universities contributed to the Seeing Speech project which will also help speech therapists and students of linguistics and phonetics.

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Medical ultrasound machines took an image of the surface of the tongue during speech and, using MRI, they recorded the entire vocal tract including the action of the larynx and the soft palate.

Picture: submitted

Academics said it gives the best understanding yet of the processes of speech.

Jane Stuart-Smith, professor of phonetics and sociolinguistics at Glasgow University, said: “One problem encountered by phonetics teachers and students is that there is nothing out there that shows how speech sounds are actually formed.

“The only resources that we had to work with up to this point were static diagrams and models that break the vocal tract up into sections and provide a fragmented view of what are really synchronised, dynamic actions of the vocal organs.”

Eleanor Lawson, a phonetics and sociolinguistics lecturer at Glasgow, said: “We hope that Seeing Speech will provide the starting point for developing into a much more substantial teaching and learning resource for the future.”

The results are available to the public at the website