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Whistling shares a common tongue with speech: bioacoustics from real-time MRI of the human vocal tract

Belyk, M; Schultz, BG; Correia, J; Beal, DS; Kotz, SA; (2019) Whistling shares a common tongue with speech: bioacoustics from real-time MRI of the human vocal tract. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences , 286 (1911) , Article 20191116. 10.1098/rspb.2019.1116. Green open access

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Abstract

Most human communication is carried by modulations of the voice. However, a wide range of cultures has developed alternative forms of communication that make use of a whistled sound source. For example, whistling is used as a highly salient signal for capturing attention, and can have iconic cultural meanings such as the catcall, enact a formal code as in boatswain's calls or stand as a proxy for speech in whistled languages. We used real-time magnetic resonance imaging to examine the muscular control of whistling to describe a strong association between the shape of the tongue and the whistled frequency. This bioacoustic profile parallels the use of the tongue in vowel production. This is consistent with the role of whistled languages as proxies for spoken languages, in which one of the acoustical features of speech sounds is substituted with a frequency-modulated whistle. Furthermore, previous evidence that non-human apes may be capable of learning to whistle from humans suggests that these animals may have similar sensorimotor abilities to those that are used to support speech in humans.

Type: Article
Title: Whistling shares a common tongue with speech: bioacoustics from real-time MRI of the human vocal tract
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.1116
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.1116
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: tongue, whistle, speech, magnetic resonance imaging, evolution, communication
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Speech, Hearing and Phonetic Sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10082276
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