Speech waves

You may be familiar with speech waves if you have ever used a computer sound editor.
Sound editors are useful because you can see sound as well as hear it, and cut, copy and paste at will.
Sound editors are useful for linguists too. They help us to listen phonetically, and to learn about speechwaves.
You can use the sound editor to expand the wave so you can see its structure. Here we have expanded a portion from near the beginning of our example sentence. Note that we have labelled the wave with phoneme symbols this time. Are they the same ones as you used?
The speechwave below is just a snippet of the one on the previous page. Go back if you need to see where this section fits in to the whole sentence.
Click the buttons below to learn about the characteristics of several kinds of sound.

Doing things with speechwaves

One of the interesting things you can do with a speechwave editor is select portions of speech and cut, paste and alter them to create different effects. You can learn a lot about the phonetic properties of speech by doing this

Let’s try a small example.

Below is the word ‘wine’, cut out from our sentence. We are going to flip it so that it plays backwards. Before we show it to you, think about what it will look like and sound like.



You know the word ‘wine’ is transcribed /waɪn/, does this information help you predict what it will sound like?

Surprised? Now, what does this tell us about speech? Speech is not a series of discrete units like letters or symbols! So simply reversing the symbols in the transcription does not necessarily help you predict the sound of the reversed speech.

Here are some things you may notice:

  • the dipthong /aɪ/ does not remain intact. Its elements are reversed, and the /ɪ/ reversed sounds more like a glide than a vowel
  • the nasalisation of the vowel is much more noticeable when it is heard after, rather than before, the nasal consonant;
  • the /w/ sounds more like a vowel when it comes at the end of a word;
  • the breath is more obvious when it comes at the beginning, in the reversed word.