Saturday, January 1, 2011

How to tell the difference between a man and a woman

I' m always amazed to see amazing technologies that exist in nature. You can just look at yourself and find a lot of them, although I wouldn't recommend operating on yourself for the sake of marveling at your heart. The most recent thing I've learned about is the lyrebird. They can imitate any sound they hear. It's pretty amazing hearing them imitating all kinds of other birds, but they also imitate chain saws, car alarms, and cameras (at least in the link above). It's pretty amazing what they can do.

Humans aren't all that bad at it either though. If you know how to speak english, then you can do this to an extent. If you can speak several different languages, getting the accent right every time, then you're pretty much amazing. When you look at the basics of what's going on when we do this, I think it's quite impressive.

If you heard the word, flabbergasted, then you can recognize it and probably know that it means exhausted. You could also hear two recordings of the word, one by an Englishman and one by an American woman and probably distinguish the two.

Now here's a fun-filled quiz: Which audio sample is the Englishman and which is the American Woman?

You guessed it. Audio sample 1 is the American woman and audio sample 2 is the Englishman. Now let's look at what your ear heard when you played those audio samples.
If you compare the two samples, you can see that they actually look pretty similar. The top line of both images gives you an idea of the rhythm of the syllables and the emphasis on particular syllables. On the second and third lines you see more detail. It's pretty easy to see in the second line that the frequency of the woman's voice is higher than the man's voice, hence your ability to tell that one was a woman and one was a man. Also, your brain has some way of recognizing which waveforms make the sounds fla-bber-gas-ted. I guess by looking at the higher frequencies. And then, to top it all off, your brain can look at the sounds each letter makes and tell the tiny differences between an American and English accent.

It's pretty impressive what your ear can do. And then if you can turn around and mimic the word and the accents, then it's even more impressive.

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