Q: What do you do?
Q: What’s that?
If you work in linguistics, what do you say when someone asks: What do you do? Romain Fiasson, PhD student in Linguistics, blogs about this very question.
Would you like to face this challenge in linguistics research and provide one of the greatest breakthroughs in science?
I think that one of the most fascinating subfields of linguistics is phonetics. Phoneticians study, amongst other things, how speech sounds are produced by the human vocal tract, how our ears perceive those sounds and how are brain processes them. For example, an interesting question for a phonetician is : “How does our brain treat phonetic variation?” By phonetic variation, I mean the fact that 100 different speakers can read the same sentence and produce very different sounds as they can have very different sounding voices and pitch, very different accents, might produce some speech errors etc. Yet, our brain will effortlessly decode and retrieve the intended message. This question has always been a challenge to linguistic research, and practical applications that could be offered by answering this question go well beyond the areas of phonetics and linguistics. Think about it, the person who can model how phonetic variation is solved can provide tremendous help for speech recognition systems (wouldn’t it be nice if every single device around us could be perfectly controlled by the sound of our voice?) and for language and speech therapy, in particular for e.g. hearing aids, which would contribute to better the lives of thousands whose hearing is greatly impaired. Work in phonetics helps us understand how speech works, and this can have a real impact on many different aspects of our lives.