Slurred speech is often a sure sign that someone's been drinking.
Now, a Georgia Institute of Technology researcher is working with colleagues from Indiana University to digitally quantify this telltale sign, which could lead to a simple, non-invasive way to test a person's sobriety.
"This is basically an effect of fine motor control," said Kathleen E. Cummings, a lecturer in Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "We're looking at specifically what happens during speech production at your vocal cords, how steadily you can produce the excitation (air from your lungs) going through your vocal cords."
Preliminary results show that intoxicated speech is marked by jumpy changes in pitch and energy production and unsteady opening and closing of the vocal cords.
Cummings discussed her work May 16 at the 131st annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Indianapolis. She is working with Dr. David B. Pisoni and Dr. Steven B. Chin of Indiana University, as part of their ongoing study of ways to measure how alcohol consumption affects speech. The current project is sponsored by the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation.
Pisoni, director of Indiana's Speech Research Laboratory and a professor of psychology, is considered a leader in the study of acoustical analysis, synthesis and perception of speech. Chin is a psychology postdoctoral student specializing in linguistics.
The two researchers approached Cummings after hearing about her thesis work at Georgia Tech, published in 1992, on how speech changes when produced under emotional stress or with linguistic effects such as talking quickly or slowly, loudly or softly.