Pronunciation Mistakes and Border Security

I love the English language. It’s compact, flexible, and easy to learn (at least easier than Latin languages like Spanish, French or Portuguese with all those verb conjugations). Although I’ve been learning English since I was twelve years old, I still make a significant number of pronunciation mistakes. Being married to an American makes my life much easier, and I really appreciate it when my wife corrects my pronunciation (after laughing out loud for 5 minutes, of course).

Yesterday, I started thinking that it may be possible to state that native speakers of language X typically make certain pronunciation mistakes when speaking English. More precisely, I started looking at my own mistakes and the mistakes of my fellow Brazilians. This led me to state the following conjecture:

Conjecture: When asked to say the following sentence out loud, 90% of all Brazilians who can speak English will make at least one pronunciation mistake:

“Sporting summer clothes, Jimmy Buffet was drinking his favorite lager as the road wound before driving over the Potomac river, where the scarce geese population has been massacred, when he saw his friends Graham and Craig from Akron, Ohio on his rear view mirror, wearing their hunting apparel.”

Try it out and let me know what happens! (I’m already counting myself as 1 out of 1.) UPDATE (4/17/10): 3 out of 3 Brazilians have made at least one mistake.

This little exercise made me think of using speech analysis for security purposes. Let’s say you’re screening people and you’re worried that they aren’t really from the country they claim to be from (e.g. fake passport). They could be asked to read a passage of text, which will then be analyzed by a computer program that will look for pronunciation mistakes (even tiny ones) or inconsistencies. Say, for example, that people from country X typically say word Y in a certain way and this person does not. That’s a first warning sign. If enough of these signs are caught, that may mean something (statistically speaking).

Has anyone heard of this kind of screening procedure? I’d love to read something about it. Perhaps OR can be used to help choose the main words that should go into the text passages, or to help with the speech analysis.



Filed under Applications, Security

2 responses to “Pronunciation Mistakes and Border Security

  1. ricardo

    of course, you’re assuming that everyone is literate. but a very interesting idea. i remember hearing about a prize, maybe sponsored by TSA, for anyone who can speed up airport screening without reducing security or further impose on the passenger.

  2. I really like your explanation about the pronunciation mistakes that you did. Well, I also need to practice how English words are spoken or said correctly. Thank you for this great post.

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