SPSC2003 Acoustics of Speech and Hearing

Course Overview


This course seeks to explain the processes of spoken language communication by which a message is encoded in sounds, transmitted and then decoded by a listener. Taking as a basis a knowledge of articulatory phonetics and basic anatomy, the course describes the acoustics of speech production, common tools for analysing speech and processes of hearing and perception.


A course in phonetics with special reference to English. Some basic anatomy and physiology. It is helpful if you have read Denes & Pinson "The Speech Chain", 2nd edition, and have worked through "Introduction to Acoustics" written by Mark Huckvale which is available from the Listening Centre.

Course Structure

Lectures: 20 (1 hour per week)
Tutorials: 10 (1 hour every fortnight)
Laboratory Classes: 18 (2 hours per week)

The laboratory classes and tutorials follow and expand on the lecture topic. The final examination will draw on information from the laboratory classes and tutorials as well as the lectures. A revision day is held in the third term.

Course Assessment

Three-hour written examination in the third term. Four laboratory reports from predetermined 'key' experiments. Two short written tests.

Term 1 Syllabus

In the first term the basic physical concepts required for a discussion of the acoustics of speech and hearing are presented. Introductory exercises in basic math, logarithms and measurement units are conducted in tutorials. The lecture and laboratory classes cover the following topics:

  • The Speech Chain
  • The nature of sound
  • Intensity and loudness
  • The Sound Pressure Level (dBSPL) scale
  • Simple periodic waveforms and harmonic analysis
  • Spectral analysis of periodic and aperiodic waveforms
  • Frequency response of simple systems
  • Time and frequency characteristics of simple resonators
  • The source-filter model of speech production
  • Systems that filter signals
  • Spectrographic analysis

Term 2 Syllabus

The initial lectures in the second term cover the acoustic properties of speech signals. You will have the opportunity to analyse recordings of your own speech in the laboratory. The lectures and laboratory classes cover the following topics:

  • Larynx function in normal voice
  • Acoustic analysis of voice quality
  • Distributions of fundamental frequency and relation to intonational units
  • Formant patterning in vowels
  • Formant movements in diphthongs and approximants
  • Formant movements in and out of obstruents
  • Acoustic properties of plosives, fricatives and nasals
  • Acoustic cues for consonant voice, place and manner
  • Perception of acoustic cues

The lectures in the latter part of the term review the functions of the peripheral auditory system. The aim is to show how the acoustic cues discussed in the first part of the term can really be found in the patterning of the nerve firing at the output of the cochlea. The lectures and laboratory classes cover the following topics:

  • Transmission of sound energy through the ear
  • Intensity coding in the cochlea
  • Pure-tone audiometry and the Hearing Level (dBHL) scale
  • Perception of loudness and problems of recruitment in impaired ears
  • Frequency coding in the cochlea (place and time models)
  • Masking and auditory filters
  • Auditory spectrograms

Text Books & Readings

Unfortunately, there is no single text book suitable for this course. Which text book(s) you buy will depend on which area you need most help and at what level. The Books page of the web site gives more details.

Each week reading recommendations are made as part of the lecture handout. Limited copies of each week's recommended reading may be borrowed from the Listening Centre.

Information for Students

Download Information for Students handbook.