Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh, The Loh Down on Science is a fun way to get your daily dose of science plus a dash of humor in less than two minutes.
Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh
Airs Weekdays 2:43 and 3:43 a.m.

Phonetic Drift

How studying foreign languages affects your native tongue.

I'eell be boch ... bud you steell won' unnestan' me.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with The Loh Down on Science, saying … ever studied a second language?

Our brains learn by seeking familiar patterns. Say you're an American studying German. That accent ... You see the letter V, but you pronounce it F. Confusing!

Eventually, your Vs might fall into some in-between pronunciation. You end up sounding different ... in your native language. (Imagine Caleefonia'ss govenah speaking German with an American accent.) Linguists call it "phonetic drift."

What if nothing looks familiar?

Berkeley linguist Charles Chang analyzed twenty Americans studying introductory Korean. Naturally, their Korean sounded horribly American. But oddly, after only one week of study, their English started sounding ... Korean!

Those languages have completely unrelated alphabets, so Chang thinks the pattern matching is not just visual, but at some more fundamental level.

Which might explain our California governor never dubs his own films in German. Because what Austrian audience would accept Ich werde zuruck kommen ... dude?

The Loh Down on Science, online, at Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA-CREF.

Follow us on Twitter at LohDown.