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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

A Linguistic Study on Myself

I’ve always been interested in linguistics, well, by always I meant, ever since I learned what linguistics is. At our school, to get a computer science degree, we were required to pick another field as a technical minor to take several upper division classes in. Many fellow computer science students picked math or economics, because computer science students usually have already completed some math classes that were required for both the major and the technical minor. On the other hand, I decided to study linguistics because I am multi-lingual and I am curious about these things.

One of my favorite linguistics class was the linguistics lab where we record voices, and then analyze them on a computer. (See how computer science and linguistics sort of come together?) In this class, we looked at waveforms and spectrograms to examine different properties in voices and even to figure out which words were said by looking at graphs. Part of the interest came from the fact that English is not my first language, and I am curious to see how much difference there is between the way I speak and the way other people speak.

And what I want to do, is to look more specifically (and mathematically) at my voiceovers for the puppet shows on this site.

When I was making Think, Outside the Box, a puppet video that was voiced by yours truly and a few of my friends, I noticed that my voice sounded a little out of place among the stuff other people recorded (good thing I only had like, two lines). Was it because I spoke in a low voice? Was it because of the speed? Was it the intonations? I haven’t really found out but I’ve been curious.

Also, my impression was that my characters here at Puppet Kaos speak slower than those on other puppet shows I’ve seen. Is it true? I don’t know. And if it was true, was it because the individual words are said longer, or because I have more pauses between words or sentence? I know most people don’t care, and I am not about to (consciously) change the way my current cast of characters speak, but do I really talk slower? I am curious to find out.

And then there’s the differences between different characters. In class, we’ve compared recordings of different people and examined the differences. However, I’ve never seen studies done on voice actors that do many different voices. Why do we recognize different voices when it’s voiceovered by the same person? Are there any similarities that still remain? Why do Mac and Cheese sound different from Moostifer… is it just the pitch? And what changed when I go falsetto?

I am going to record some stuff, and I am going to analyze them. Maybe I won’t actually figure anything out since I am by no means an expert, but it would be fun. 😀

Well, fun in a geeky sort of way anyway. It won’t be the last time I do geeky stuff. 😉


  1. February 6th, 2009 | 2:10 pm

    Geeky is good. Geeks are seriously underrated. :)

    Vered – MomGrind’s last blog post..A Community For Good-Looking People

  2. February 6th, 2009 | 5:10 pm

    Linguistics is definitely fascinating! I’m taking an introductory course right now for a GE requirement, and I love it.

    Laura’s last blog post..So California: Rainy Day Must-Haves

  3. Na
    February 6th, 2009 | 11:41 pm

    Actually, combining linguistics and technology for puppetry is a great idea – imagine what could be learned if it was applied to children’s TV shows! We could figure out whether or not a particular character is likely to be more scary or approachable, whether or not the voice needs to be more feminine or male… etc. Henson and Co would no doubt find it incredibly useful.

  4. February 7th, 2009 | 5:50 am

    @Vered: And good-looking people are over-rated, eh? 😉

    @Laura: A journalist finding linguistics to be fascinating… why am I not surprised? 😀

    @Na: I don’t know if they do extensive researches on voices, specifically, but I’m pretty sure the producers / casting directors take it into consideration in a more intuitive and less analytical sort of way. As for character traits, they actually show the programs to kids and ask them which character they like, which segment they enjoy, and what stories they related to. I’ve read a research paper on the Between the Lions website (not sure if the document is still there). I don’t remember the details cuz it was from a few years ago, but it states the theory about children’s learning that the show is based on, and have charts on how the kids respond to each character. It was an interesting read.

  5. February 9th, 2009 | 3:11 pm

    Yes they are! :)

    Vered – MomGrind’s last blog post..Sex Sells? You Tell Me

  6. February 9th, 2009 | 3:34 pm

    Yep, I believe that was already established. :-)

  7. February 14th, 2009 | 11:09 pm

    I like linguistics as well. I had to take the courses for my ESL certification, and I found that I really enjoyed them. One interesting thing that happened was when I was getting my master’s degree, and I had done several recordings of my interactions with a student. The project I was doing had something to do with mentorship, but I when listening to the tape, I found that I would change my inflections to more closely match those of my student. Like a subconscious linguistic attempt at bonding or something.

    I took electronic music for two years in college (before the days you could do it on your computer) and analyzed sound waves and all that. Geeky is indeed a good thing. I had a blast. Keep on with that geekiness!

  8. February 15th, 2009 | 12:35 am

    That is interesting. It’s probably true that people try to match each other’s levels and inflections subconsciously, if they care enough to try to connect.

    Keep on with the geekiness? Will do!

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