If you had to learn to speak Italian or Spanish with only a dictionary, could you do it? Phonemes are distinct units of sound in a specified language that distinguish one word from another, for example p, b, d, and t in the English words pad, pat, bad, and bat. So... consonants are one thing, but vowels can be a completely different story. You have to love this stuff and our Romance Languages faculty does. On Thursday at 4 p.m. in Gilbert 115, the department presents a Romance Linguistics colloquium featuring assitant professor of linguistics Peggy Renwick:
“Phonological closeness between phonetically distinct vowel phonemes”
Standard Italian has seven vowels: /i e ɛ a o ɔ u/. But how strong is the distinction between /e/ vs. /ɛ/ and /o/ vs. /ɔ/? Do people really speak like the dictionary prescribes? Our study investigates the validity of the conventional descriptions of Italian and probes the correspondence between speakers’ productions and their intuitions, with the ultimate aim of understanding how such cases can be incorporated into theories of phonological contrast and historical change.
Just so. More information on Dr. Renwick's work here. Language is a wonderfully, maddeningly evolving tool that gives force to our thoughts and voice to our emotions. It is the path to comprehending the world, yourself and your place in the world - even if you only speak one language. The best we can do is to continue to improve our understanding of its power. How does that sound?