Loose language

January 16, 2004

Each month, the Annals of Improbable Research selects a report worthy of closer scrutiny. The Diary is pleased to bring you this month's choice: "Sars transmission: language and droplet production", Sakae Inouye, The Lancet , July 12 2003, p.170. The Japanese author explains: "Droplets are generated when patients cough and, to a lesser extent, when they talk during the early stages of disease. I believe that the efficiency of transmission of Sars by talking might be affected by the language spoken. "The Chinese language has an aspiration/non-aspiration pronunciation system: the consonants p, t, k, q, ch, and c, when placed in front of vowels, are pronounced with a strong breath. In English, but not in Japanese, p, t, and k are pronounced with a similar accompanying exhalation of breath. Furthermore, the p sound is not used as frequently in Japanese as in English. Aspiration could produce droplets."

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