Beatboxing doesn’t sound a lot like language and, well, that’s sort of the point. It’s supposed to be an a cappella version of the percussion section, not a coded set of lyrics. However, since the human vocal tract—including the palate, tongue, teeth, and other mouthparts—is used for both beatboxing and speaking, linguists at the University of Southern California wondered to what extent beatboxers draw on actual speech sounds. To find out, they put a professional beatboxer in a real-time MRI machine. The resulting cross-sections of the beatboxer’s mouth and throat show a range of sounds, all linguistic, but only some of which are found in the beatboxer’s native language (in this case, both English and Spanish).
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