Do you see the picture above? Can you tell what it’s a picture of? If any of you have worked with a/v, you may recognize the top part as being sound waves, and you’d be right. The one on the left is the sound wave of a speaker saying the noun version of the word “contrast,” and the one of the right is the verb version of that same word. The things on the bottom are called “spectrographs,” and are a different way of looking at sound. If you look closely you can see that the two wave forms don’t look exactly alike, which makes sense since they aren’t pronounced exactly the same either. What you see corresponds with what sounds someone is making and what someone else can hear when that person talks.
Ok, so that kind of makes sense, but why should you care? Great question! One reason I care is because I have to write a report about things like this, due tomorrow. But the even more important reason is that learning how to see these differences and knowing what they symbolize will (hopefully!) help my team and I produce a better Bible translation in My Language. “How is that?” you may ask.
Well, in order to translate the Bible, we need to create a written language, including an alphabet.
In order to create an alphabet, we need to figure out what sounds they think that they’re saying (that’s called phonology).
In order to figure out what sounds they think they’re saying, we need to figure out what sounds they’re actually saying (that’s called phonetics). (And yes, often what people say is different than what they think they say. For a quick example, say the words “stop” and “top.” The “t”s in those two words are actually different sounds and are expressed by different letters in other alphabets, but we as native English speakers think that they’re the same sound, so they’re written with one letter in English. Gee, it’s one way in which English is actually written well!)
Now, it would be great if I could just listen to people speaking My Language and be able to understand and write down what they’re actually saying. (There’s the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, for writing that down, for those of you who are wondering how I’m writing an unwritten language.) And it’s true that I have written down lots and lots of words. But I want to make sure that I’ve written them really accurately in order to be able to do the next steps well. That includes making sure that I’ve written the right “t”s and made a bazillion other minute distinctions that I’m not so certain about all the time.