Those who have had the chance to study linguistics must remember images of “points of articulation” such as this one–which I’ve borrowed from Ambernowak.
However, I’m wondering how many of you know that charts like this one actually came from real scientific experiments which involved dozens of X-rays taken while the “model” was articulating various sounds. I personally knew the vital role that technology played in this matter only after I read an article by Adnan Haydar, a professor of Arabic in the University of Arkansas. Actually, the article is on the structural analysis of “Mu’allaqah” by Imr al-Qays, a highly celebrated pre-Islamic poem that was hung on the wall of Ka’bah during the pre-Islamic era. At one point in that article, Dr. Haydar mentions “In Arabic, as well as in other languages, X-ray pictures of the mouth while pronouncing vowel sounds have been able to define the general area of vowel articulation within the vocal tract: lips, nasal passages, pharynx, glottis,” which he paraphrases from some source.
So, why do I care about this menial fact? I’m probably telling myself to never, ever think that Humanities is a field whose development centers on isolated meditations on phenomena or, in other words, theorizing events in life. In fact, technology and hard sciences, strictly measured experiments can play an equally defining role. Unfortunately, I think, a lot of us have thought that humanities–linguistics included–is centered on theories and is separate from the real life.