Field Notes from a Laboratory Science

Professor of Acoustic and Instrumental Phonetics

New University of Southern North Carolina

As Introductory Graduate Phonetics is my favorite class to teach, I was overjoyed to receive this journal’s summons to share the fruit of my many years of experience training the minds of the next generation of linguists. My first piece of advice is to pay close attention to the students in attendance. For example, Introductory Undergraduate Phonetics is a far different beast to the graduate course; in that course I have found it useful to restrict myself to slinkys, pipes, and violins until after the refund deadline, whereas with graduate students I can start with the differential equations on the first day.

On a related matter, the instructor must not allow herself to forget that her students are in graduate school. They can take it. Indeed, they *have* to take it. A student who goes into linguistics expecting the usual humanities sidestep shuffle away from rigor is a soft-

Ideally, an introductory phonetics class should consist of at least four semesters. However, if you are restricted to a one-

First, of course, one must start with the equations of continuity and the various conservation equations. I have found that the Lagrangian treatment, while less intuitive, is more conducive to a quick derivation, after which the usual approximations should be applied and at the very least the Webster horn equation should be derived by the end of the first hour, as well as a close analysis of the conditions under which the approximations behind the equation are valid. Then and only then may one proceed to the brutally simplistic treatment with two narrow tubes with various apertures, which, while useful for building an intuitive understanding suited to the capacities of middle-

In the second week, students turn to the anatomy underlying phonetics. Ideally the university should have a medical school with the odd cadaver; otherwise there’s really no point, is there? Indeed, I dare say the instructor should *insist* upon several cadavers, ideally of subjects who were recorded before their demise. After one class period devoted to a detailed study of the gross anatomy of the vocal tract, it is then time for the students to start taking measurements: mechanical inductances, capacitances, and resistances, muscle densities and tensions, and the maximum and minimum curvatures of the surface of the vocal tract at 0.1 mm intervals between the lips and the pharynx.

The next class period should then be devoted to constructing a finite-

The next section of the class treats the neural underpinnings of vocalization in as much rigor as access to anatomical subjects allows. Again, ideally your university should have a school of neurology and neurochemistry, but failing that you can still obtain the necessary equipment to perform basic neurochemical and neuroelectrical measurements in your own lab. Remember, the motion of the vocal tract is governed by 1400 neural signals per second*don’t skimp!* The more adept the students become at vocal neurology, the easier it is for them to proceed to the next section, producing a neural-

The last section of the class should be devoted to auditory phonetics. The theoretical section, of course, should be taught like a mechanical engineering class with strong acoustics and regional anatomy lab components through which the students are led to build a finite-

Time permitting, you can then turn to ancillary matters like narrow transcription and the IPA, but don’t worry if you run out of time. After all, you’re doing *science,* for heaven’s sake, not *engineering.*