It's not a tool generally associated with linguists, but ultrasound scans are proving to be invaluable to them, reports Scientific American. The same device that gives doctors a glimpse of a fetus is also pretty good at capturing images of the moving tongue. For linguists documenting rare languages in Africa, for instance, the ultrasounds shed new light on how click consonants are produced.
That, in turn, improves something called the International Phonetic Alphabet, which keeps track of sounds in all the world's languages. “Once you have the [clicks’ classifications and] subclassifications, you can begin to see similarities ... to other sounds in English, for example,” says one linguist.