Rick’s (literally) animated belches are the focus of a study conducted by Rick and Morty fan and University of Southern California linguistics researcher Brooke Kidner. Burping, Kidner tells Inverse, is a historically ignored area of linguistics research — but belching can be much more than escaping gas. Sometimes, burping can be a form of vocalization, which places it in the world of paralinguistics.
Defining the acoustics of belching wasn’t what Kidner initially set out to do when she began her thesis. But she did want to analyze the phonological patterns that she noticed when Rick both belches and speaks at the same time.
To figure them out, she needed to pinpoint which sounds were overlapping. As a result, she is now one of the few researchers to try to linguistically and phonetically describe what happens when one belches.
Kidner presents the initial results of her study this week at the 178th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.
Why study animated burps?
The study sheds light on how belches fit into the world of paralinguistics. These are nontraditional vocalizations that can still carry important social connotations. They’re broken into two groups: differentiators and alternants.
The former typically refers to a psychological or physiological state — like a cough or a yawn. The latter refers to crying or laughing — forms of communication that can either happen in isolation, or embedded within a stream of speech.
“Paralinguistics have been shown to carry significant meaning when inserted into conversation,” Kidner says, “and being able to understand the meanings of these less common sounds can lead to a greater understanding of natural language processing.”
Previous studies suggest that television shows serve as a helpful guide to understanding sounds and how they convey meaning. Kidner’s study is split between examining Rick’s burps and other work that describes the frequency and amplitude of belching sounds across speech.
From her count, Rick belches approximately 209 times during the show’s run. On average, Rick’s burps tended to rumble at a relatively low 300 hertz, and jitter about 4 percent more than human speech, she says. These acoustic qualities demonstrate that Rick’s belches — likely articulated by an actor at or below the larynx — have a creaky quality that’s similar to vocal fry.
The study doesn’t provide the definitive acoustic properties of belching, but it does open the door for future exploration, she says.
In Rick’s case, his burps provide some insight into his character. His eructations act as differentiators — the things that express emotion, effect, or agreement.
And while belching may seem gross, Rick’s are placed where a different paralinguistic, like um, would typically be used to establish camaraderie or closeness. It’s an animated comedy show, so the juxtaposition of belches in these moments work.
Needless to say, Kidner is a huge Rick and Morty fan. But after this project and the amount of time she’s spent watching Rick’s burps, she is glad of the huge breaks between seasons — they offer her ears a break from all the burping.