I [Dr. Lockenvitz] am taking the reins again. Mostly. But first, housekeeping.
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We did cool stuff in Phonetics class (in my opinion!), so I’m going to exploit my blog authority and take over for this post. We are taking a bit of a new approach this year, in an effort to build awareness of articulator placement and relationships before even starting to dive into specific sounds and their characteristics. So I brought in the materials to experiment with what is known as “static palatography.” More familiar may be “electropalatography,” or EPG, which is what Dr. Mantie-Kozlowski and I use in some of our collaborative research. Both result in a visual representation/documentation of the points of contact between the tongue and the palate. You can then identify which articulators are involved, and how, when producing specific sounds. EPG achieves this with an artificial palate, created to fit an individual’s specific oral cavity, with electrodes and software and drool and gagging. (jk, it’s not that bad.) Static palatography achieves this with a charcoal-water mixture and toothettes and drool and gagging. (jk, it’s not that bad.) The idea behind static palatography is that when studying how sounds are produced – past studies investigate sounds outside the repertoire of a researcher’s known languages, as English speakers you might think of sounds like clicks or trills or velar fricatives or what have you – you can do it anywhere. Like isolated or remote communities without access to things like electricity or running water or electrodes or software or laptops. When all you need to collect data for your phonetics research is charcoal powder, water, a paintbrush or toothettes, maybe a small mirror, a camera or a way to document your results, and perhaps months of living there and getting to know the people well enough to ask them to sit with you for a couple hours while you paint their tongues and palates and have them say meaningless syllables and then tilt their heads back with their mouths wide open so you can take a picture… Well… it’s doable, especially when you are a determined and passionate professional phonetician, working with willing participants and grant funding. What I wanted to find out was whether or not it’s doable when you are instead a determined and passionate Assistant Professor speech-language pathologist, working with apprehensive undergraduates and something like $30-$40 that you are siphoning away from your own personal budget.
And so my 90ish agreeable CSD 210 Phonetics students gave it a go, even after my last-minute message that they should think about wearing old clothes to class and bringing a towel and a snack and something to drink. They made predictions about what they thought the palatograms or linguograms (same idea, just focused on the tongue side rather than the palate side) would look like for different sounds I provided. Then about 25% of these heroes volunteered to coat their tongues and palates with charcoal paint, say short words, and then open wide so their fellow students could scrutinize the residual charcoal paint that transferred from either the tongue to the palate or the palate to the tongue.
I think we were all a little surprised that it went as well as it did, especially my Graduate Assistant, Caitlyn Golden, who said something along the lines of “This is weird, Dr. Lockenvitz,” as we frantically prepped before class. She’s right. I agree. But again, my intention is to bolster the awareness of how the articulators interact to produce our different speech sounds. This will hopefully prime everyone to understand our relevant International Phonetic Alphabet symbols covered in CSD 210, and the sounds they represent, to be not just arbitrarily labeled and requiring pure memorization for class, but reasonably and thoughtfully organized into systematic charts that can inform and assist a clinician in identifying tricky (or not so tricky) patterns in clients’ speech – patterns that can indicate the nature of any errors to guide goal writing and treatment planning more efficiently than a haphazard hit-or-miss approach.
Two very brave souls were willing to let me take pictures of them, and one very graciously wrote up a little piece about her experience.
In Bri Still’s words:
In CSD 210-Phonetics with Professor Lockenvitz, I had the opportunity to participate in a new class activity. She said we were her guinea pigs which made me wonder how smoothly it was going to go, but it turned out better than I imagined! The activity was to see which parts of the tongue and palate were stressed and used when saying certain sounds. One of my group members painted my tongue and the palate of my mouth with a charcoal and water mixture. If I tried this myself, it would have been too messy and not worked as well! Once I was all “painted” I simply said one word at a time, each word containing a different sound to stress. You might be thinking this sounds disgusting and that there is no way you would willingly do this. However, I am not scared of a challenge and it was not as bad as it sounds. The charcoal mixture did not taste as bad as I thought because it was more of a tart or sour taste. Thankfully it was not overwhelming; it was a persistent yet subtle taste…
After 12 sounds/words my mouth did get tired, but it was worth it! Before I tried the next sound, I had to clean my tongue and that was a challenge in itself. To do this, I would use paper towels to scrub my tongue and swish water like mouthwash. Two paper towels and one bottle of water later, all the sounds and results were recorded.
Before doing the activity, we had to guess what parts we thought were going to be used and stressed. It turned out we had a fair range of right and wrong guesses. One thing I found interesting was after using the charcoal mixture, I could feel which parts of my mouth were being used. Without something on my tongue, it was harder to tell which areas were most important for the sound, but after the mixture was applied, it was easier to tell. My group would tell me where the marks were, and it matched the places I felt. Some examples of the places I felt were: the tip and middle areas of my tongue and the front, back, and sides of my palate. I think this activity was very beneficial and was a great way to see what parts of the mouth were used. It turned out better than I imagined, and I think it was a great way to learn about palatograms.
Thanks, CSD 210, for your help in making this successful. If nothing else, you won’t forget the day Dr. Lockenvitz made you poke around in each other’s mouths and trigger each other’s gag reflexes. I feel like we all came out closer and stronger on the other side. 😉