Comment »Posted on Friday 21 November 2008 at 9:56 am by Jacob Aron
In Biology

Gratuitous cultural reference time: The Clangers. This children’s animation featured space mice who communicated through a series of whistling noises. Well, so what?

A piece of research on “Sine-Wave Speech” has been doing the rounds on the internet recently. It’s actually nothing new, but you know how it is; one site posts a link, another picks it up, and before you know it we’re all talking about the Sudanese man who was forced to marry a goat again. I swear, that story seems to crop up around once a month on the BBC’s “most read” list. Surely everyone has seen it by now?

Sorry, tangents. Back to The Clangers and sine-wave speech. SWS degrades an audio recording to the point of being unrecognisable – in fact, the result sounds much like The Clangers. Unlike these strange creatures however, SWS can be understood if you first listen to the original audio recording, and then the SWS version (a number of examples are found on the webpage). As if by magic, the sentence will “pop-out” of the previously incomprehensible beeps and boops.

Researchers believe this is an example of “perceptual insight”, as your brain learns to process the unusual sounds into something you can understand. If you listen to a few of the examples, you might find that you can actually interpret the SWS without having to listen to the “clean” version first. It’s a pretty cool effect – and who knows, maybe if you listen hard enough you’ll be able to understand The Clangers.


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