24.03.2021 change 24.03.2021
Agnieszka Kliks-Pudlik
Agnieszka Kliks-Pudlik

Scientists to investigate the effects of coronavirus on changes in articulation

Credit: Adobe Stock Credit: Adobe Stock

Scientists from the University of Silesia are investigating what affects the coronavirus has on the way we speak, pronounce sounds and cough.

Currently, the researchers are finishing collecting material for analysis. They already have recordings of people suffering from COVID-19 who are in infectious diseases hospitals. 

Dr. Arkadiusz Rojczyk from the Speech Processing Laboratory at the University of Silesia in Katowice said: “People who agree to this read the text I have prepared. It is material with sentences or words that contain a wide range of features of the sounds of the Polish language, e.g. geminate consonant, i.e. combinations of two consonants as in the word: 'panna' or 'lekki'. The word 'panna' can be pronounced either by lengthening the /n/ or by splitting: /pan#na/. If a person has any neurocontrol impairment, they will probably pronounce this word with a reduced length.”

He added: “Speech articulation is the most biomechanical part of language. The whole process of, for example, shorting consonants, opening to vowels, is controlled by the nervous system and the muscular structure of the speech apparatus. 

“Therefore, if we assume that COVID-19 affects the central nervous system more than other infections of the upper respiratory tract (there is no evidence yet, but we can assume it; the characteristic symptoms of the infection, i.e. loss of smell and taste, may indicate an attack on the nervous system), the articulation of speech must also automatically suffer because of it.”

“These are, of course, small changes that can only be detected in acoustic analysis. The first publications on this subject have already appeared abroad, for now on the German language. They show changes in the vowels; in Polish we have six of them, so maybe we will be able to find something. Measuring vowels can be compared to a radio where you tune in to different stations on different frequencies. The brain picks up certain frequencies of sounds and thus distinguishes between 'a' and 'o'. If there were any neurocontrol impairment at the articulation level, we would spot the difference between the healthy and infected populations. This can also apply to consonants, for example in terms of their shortness or length."

When it comes to studying coughs, however, Rojczyk said “here, we go a bit blind, because there are very few scientific reports in the literature examining the cough acoustics.”

If scientists manage to find any cough acoustic parameters characteristic of COVID-19, they would like to create an application that would identify and distinguish between types of coughs to enable coronavirus detection.

The researchers say they expect to have the first results within a few months.

Rojczyk said: “If we can prove that SARS-CoV-2 causes characteristic changes in speech and cough compared to other upper respiratory tract viruses, we will demonstrate the uniqueness of this virus, which will open the way for publication and implementation work in the field of SARS-CoV-2 infection diagnosis."

The research team members are: Dr. Andrzej Swinarew (Institute of Biomedical Engineering, University of Silesia), Dr. Szymon Skoczyński (Department of Pneumology of the Medical University of Silesia), Dr. Jarosław Paluch (Department of Laryngology, Medical University of Silesia), Professor Katarzyna Mizia-Stec (Head of the 1st Department of Cardiology of the Medical University of Silesia), Dr. Arkadiusz Stanula (Head of the Department of Individual Sports of the Academy of Physical Education in Katowice) and Jadwiga Gabor (Institute of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Silesia).

PAP - Science in Poland, Agnieszka Kliks-Pudlik

akp/ ekr/ kap/

tr. RL

Copyright © Foundation PAP 2021