Monday, August 27, 2012

Learning intonation in your sleep? Nothing to sniff at!

Compliments of Dr Seuss
Clip art: Clker
You may have seen comment on this study someplace recently. Sobel and several colleagues at Academic College of Tel Aviv -- Jaffa, summarized here by Science Daily, found that by exposing sleeping subjects to both a tone and and odor together, that later after awaking, when exposed to the tone they would begin "sniffing!" Is that big or what? (To quote Dr Seuss in the Sleep Book, one of my absolute, all time favorite books, by the way) "Now that may  not seem very important, I know, but it is so I'm bothering telling you so!" I do dabble in olfaction in EHIEP work, often having students rub some Mary Kay "Mint Bliss" on their hands before class--which I would highly recommend, in fact. The relevant point here, however, is that there, in that study, you have an example of using one modality to "set off" or anchor another. (In our work we use movement and touch--and to some extent, color--in attempting to do the same thing with targeted speech, for example.) For decades there have been all kinds of "sleep" techniques tried for learning new language material or reinforcing it. None have been shown to be empirically verifiable, however. This one is interesting. What if the subjects had been played various prosodic features  or melodies in their dreams, such as intonation contours, instead of single tones--while breathing in Mint Bliss . . . who knows? Better sleep on it. 

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