Some people say God’s miracles are to be found in the smallest details of the Creation. Not that I am a 21st century prophet or anything like that, but I think I found one of them.
It happened during my thesis writing. As I began to take this task more seriously and religiously, I became more preoccupied with so many colourful acoustic details that, at certain points, I felt like I was living in the Alice’s Wonderland. The box plot above, for example, is one of the many things that keeps puzzling me. It shows the contrast between singletons and geminates in Kelantan Malay in terms of the duration of consonant closures measured in milliseconds. As you can observe, there is a clear contrast between the two, with geminates produced three times longer than singletons. So, what’s the big deal?
Well, I remembered when I first found geminates in Kelantan Malay a few years earlier, I used to call them Double Consonants (as many native speakers of Kelantan Malay would have called them, too). These “doubling” events are evident in their gibberish written forms, like “kkabo” or “kkatok” (note the double consonants written at the beginning of these words). For many centuries (or perhaps throughout the course of human history), people go about doing their business and think that they simply double the word-initial consonants in their conversations to differentiate between “katok” (to hit) and “kkatok” (a frog). But, hey, let’s check the reality.
If we want to take the phonetic reality really seriously in its strictest sense, Double Consonants are no longer appropriate in this context. Note again that, in the box plot above, Double Consonants are not doubled. For God’s sake, they are tripled! (Should we start calling them Triple Consonants?). Come to think of it, there has been a clash between reality and perception here. Apparently, a lot of people have been cheated by the perception of their own speech. Sounds creepy, huh?
But, hold on, there is always something funny going on between the reality of the invisible world and human perception. There are millions of pixels in a digital picture, but do we really pay attention to each of them? A century-old painting in an art gallery has countless of brush strokes, but do we have to count each one of them to appreciate the beauty? Just like speech, we only take what really matters to us and what’s perceptually relevant so that we can go on with out lives talking about real stuff, not about some laboratory speech that might be fake after all. So, what the hell am I doing?
I don’t know yet. The phonologists might thank me later. But for now, bless those souls who are ignorant of the pain-in-the-ass truths, and may God save the PhD wannabes who go nuts digging into the mind-boggling details of the world (like me!). Still, it’s indeed amazing to discover God’s little secrets hiding and smiling knowingly behind those milliseconds of our everyday speech.