15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003


Acoustic and Perceptual Comparison of Speech and Drum Sounds in the North Indian Tabla Tradition: An Empirical Study of Sound Symbolism

Aniruddh D. Patel, John R. Iversen

The Neurosciences Institute, USA

North Indian tabla drumming is an oral tradition which uses a system of nonsense syllables (vocables) to name drum sounds. We tested the hypothesis that the vocables are a case of sound symbolism (onomatopoeia). Eight vocables and their corresponding drum sounds were collected from 6 professional tabla players in India. Analysis revealed that acoustic properties of drum sounds were reflected by a variety of phonetic components of vocables: spectral centroid, rate of amplitude envelope decay, duration between the releases of consonants in a cluster, fundamental frequency, and the influence of aspiration on the balance of low vs. high frequency energy in a vowel. We also describe a perceptual experiment which demonstrates that naive listeners can match vocables to their corresponding drum sounds. Taken together, these results provide strong evidence of sound symbolism in the North Indian tabla drumming tradition.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Patel, Aniruddh D. / Iversen, John R. (2003): "Acoustic and perceptual comparison of speech and drum sounds in the North Indian Tabla tradition: an empirical study of sound symbolism", In ICPhS-15, 925-928.