Archive for January 31, 2011

Familiar prenatal tool proving helpful for linguists

How might ultrasound, a tool long relied on in pre-natal medical settings, help with language study? As it turns out, the same technology that images fetuses can help with the study of endangered languages, teaching foreign languages, and assisting the deaf to speak.

Innovative scientists are turning to the technology to study and track the tongues of their subjects in real time. As it happens, it is one of the only medical scanning devices that can keep up with speech. And since the portable technology became affordable to linguists in about 2000, about 40 have begun using it.

It’s also a welcome improvement over the x-rays and glue-on electronic probes that had been used prior to ultrasound. The first exposes the subject to harmful radiation, while the second tends to be inconvenient and not especially comfortable for those being examined.

Using ultrasound, researchers have been able to capture some of the fastest sounds in human speech: the clicking consonants used in a number of rare African languages. Linguists did not know how these sounds were produced, making them difficult to order in the International Phonetic Alphabet, the universal system that catalogues all the sounds in the world’s languages.

Thanks to the technology, research published in 2009 identified more than 40 different kinds of click consonants, organizing them based on attributes such as airstream (where the air comes from), place (where the mouth constricts), and manner of articulation. This information has now allowed the clicks to be properly classified.

Till next time,

New geolocation tools a potential new opportunity for healthcare

Healthcare is currently looking at how it might use another of the myriad new tools being ushered in by the digital technology revolution. Referred to generally as “geolocation,” these tools include names like Foursquare, Gowalla, and Google Places, and give users the ability to “check in” with friends to let them know where they are.

Geolocation is made possible by mobile applications that work with your smartphone’s GPS system. Developed originally as a means for friends to alert each other of their whereabouts, it is now also being used to share instant reviews and news about different locations, be it a restaurant or a clinic waiting room.

The sites also often allow users to post their location to other social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Not surprisingly, some companies have sought to use this functionality as a means for offering discounts or incentives.

The question facing many in healthcare is does this technology make sense for them. There are HIPAA concerns to consider. But the service could give healthcare organizations a new way to share targeted health information. For example, some pharmacies are using the applications to promote services such as flu shots.

In another example, the Kaiser Family Foundation partnered with Foursquare and MTV for an STD awareness campaign. It encouraged people to follow MTV on Foursquare, check in after getting tested, and shout “GYT” (Get Yourself Tested) to their followers. Participants were then entered to win a trip for two to New York City and backstage passes to MTV’s 10 on Top.

Today, the opportunities are only limited by one’s imagination.

Till next time,