Monday, July 30, 2012

Smile your pronunciation frustrations (and anchor) away!

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
In a couple of 2009 studies by Foroni and Semin of Utrecht University, summarized by Science Daily,  it was demonstrated that " . . . merely seeing a smile (or a frown, for that matter) will activate the muscles in our face that make that expression, even if we are unaware of it." In addition, seeing or reading a word such as 'smile' or 'frown' influenced the subjects' rating of images that followed, e.g., a "smile" would result in a more positive rating; a frown, a more negative rating. Although details of the experiments are sketchy in the summary, they obviously controlled carefully the subjects' attention, eliminating visual and auditory distractions as much as possible. In that setting, the intensity of the somatic response in the muscles of the face was optimized, engendering something of the corresponding emotion. The parallel to haptic anchoring or anchoring of any relationship between the felt sense of the pronunciation of a word and its meaning and orthographic representation is striking, on a couple of levels. Just the set of words used in setting up change and practice lists of sound complexes impacts both the effectiveness of specific anchoring and the overall anchoring "environment" as it happens. No wonder learners so enjoy practicing voiceless grooved sibilants ('s'), once told to just "Smile when you say that!" We knew that. The researchers conclude that " . . . language is not merely symbolic, but also somatic . . ." and " . . . these experiments provide an important bridge between research on the neurobiological basis of language and related behavioral research." Really, ya think? If that isn't enough to make you smile--that there is finally empirical evidence of that "bridge," I don't know what is . . . 

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