Pink Trombone is a DIY mouth you can manipulate to form sounds

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Jaromír Chalabala/123RF

Let’s be honest, if it weren’t for the faint whiff of NSFW material about its name, we would all click a link entitled “Pink Trombone” the moment we saw it.

A new web app created by Neil Thapen, a researcher at the Institute of Mathematics of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, it’s a pretty awesome creation: A disembodied mouth that you can manipulate to see how sounds are formed.

You probably won’t be using it to form any sounds other than guttural “Oh-ah-oo-ee-aa!” type noises but it’s an intriguing look at how the mouth’s soft and hard palate, tongue, lips, and oral and nasal cavity are manipulated to produce vowels and consonants, as well as varying pitch.

“Pink Trombone is an interactive articulatory speech synthesizer,” Thapen told Digital Trends. “That is, it creates speech by modeling — in a simplified way — the physical form and movements of the human vocal tract. Programs like this have been around for a long time, but the examples I’ve seen from academia tend to have unfriendly interfaces. I have tried to make one that is fun to use. You can move the tongue or lips around in real time with your fingers, and see what sound comes out.”

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Thapen said the web app has no real connection with his day job, which is research in logic. Instead, it ties in with his hobby of game development and making “interesting things that are fun to interact with.”

“I started working on it when my daughter began to speak,” he continued. “I was reading about the physical processes involved in speech production and thought it would be interesting to implement them on the computer at the same time as she was doing it in real life. Of course, she ended up learning much faster than I did.”

If you want to try it out, you can do so by clicking the link here. As far as gaining a basic understanding of speech and phonetics, and specifically how speech organs actually work, this is the best “hands-on” education you’re likely to get.