Watch beatbox people on a MRI

If you have struggled to learn the differentiated triclin pen from pero in Spanish half as much as I do, beatboxing is probably not the right hobby for you.

Artists regularly interpret their vocal muscles in foreign languages ​​in their mother tongue, according to surveys of the past. And according to the results presented yesterday at a joint meeting of the Acoustic Society of America and the Canadian Acoustic Association in Victoria, British Columbia, many artists also produce sounds completely unknown to modern linguists. Now you can see exactly what these extra-lingual results produce.

You see the boxer's tongue, which is like a strange worm, as it pulls a wave of pressure from the vocal cords of the throat into an explosive lip exit. Cognitive scientists from the University of Southern California call this sound a "vocal elliptical surgical attitude," but most of us recognize it as the approach of its performer thud thud thud.

And there are more than they come from. The team captured MRI videos from various artists that reproduce 30 other effects, from "voiceless lingual egressive alveolar trills" to "unreleased voiced glottalic ingressive velar stops". You can even compare them side-by-side on the group's website.

So why is a multidisciplinary team of linguists, computer engineers and scientists watching beatboxers beatboxing on their backs on an MRI machine? Skill encompasses the junction between language and music, University of America PhD student Tim Greer said at the conference yesterday, and his team hopes that emerging art could help shape the limits of what people can do in a linguistic way .

"[Beatboxers] trying to create a new sound system, "says Shrikanth Narayanan, a USC engineer and team leader." We just wanted to see the similarities and differences from a cognitive science perspective. "

And this effort begins with the cataloging of the collective repertoire of various artists. Previous research has focused on a performer, but this time the group managed to recruit five different beatboxers – including one of their own undergraduate biomedical engineers Nimisha Patil.

During a session, each beatboxer spent between 30 and 90 minutes performing all the sounds they knew while a recording machine recorded slices from their heads and mouths. Beatboxing on the back was not too hard, says Patil. The biggest challenge was to resist the temptation to move at a pace that would give the picture. "It will not be your head, it will be the middle of your eye or something like that," he says.

Once the precise movements of the tongue and other parts of the vocal system had been turned, the researchers tried to categorize them using the traditional linguistic framework to break the sounds based on how their mouth produces and where. An "amphibious tribute", for example, comes from the friction of air blowing between two lips – like the v sound or its si sound in English. Some beats fell neatly in similar descriptions, Greer said during his presentation, but others – like the roll roll with the lip – completely broke the language mold. "We do not see this articulation in any language we know," he said.

Role of the lips, far-sighted cousins ​​and raspberries are some of the hardest learning outcomes, says Patil, which makes sense given Greer's findings. "If you think the language you are talking about, you will not be rolling your lips in the middle of a phrase," he says. We learn the language based on the sounds we find around us, so you would not expect to get these rare results by osmosis – except perhaps by the most dedicated Yankees fans.

While the team does not have many specific language achievements yet, they dream big. Then Narayanan hopes to exploit the "vocabulary" he classifies and see if practice has patterns that resemble grammar rules, such as whether certain phenomena tend to follow others. He considers beatboxing as a complementary system, overlapping but independent of speech, which can extend the field of linguistics.

"We can move beyond language," he says. "Beatboxing is another platform."

The linguistic side of patil beatboxing interests too, but it also has a more practical application in mind: learning and teaching-new beats faster. He says most beatboxers are largely overwhelmed by trials and mistakes, mimicking others and playing at random. However, the face of this technology reveals the exact machine behind each beat, removing the mystery and the need for speculation.

"Just watching the different movements of the language," says Patil, recalling the first time he was watching the MRI footage of his own beatboxing session. "There are so many things that happen that I did not even know I did."