Tag Archives: sociolinguistics

Visualizing Spectral Change

What does a monophthongal vowel look like versus a diphthongal vowel in F1/F2 space? Well, I guarantee you, the difference is not as easy to interpret if you only have 2 or 3 measurements per vowel as is the norm. The two graphics I have inserted below (created using R) are what they look like when you take 21-time normalized measurements across the duration of the vowel.

First is a Loess curve created from several hundred BAT tokens extracted from sociolinguistic interviews with 18 African American speakers:


And here is the front lax vowel system (again several hundred tokens for each class) extracted from sociolinguistic interviews with 5 Southern white speakers:


I don’t know about you, but I find this particularly cool! Note that the space between nodes represents rate of spectral change. For African Americans it appears there is a definable steady state but the same isn’t true for Southern white speakers (at least for BET and BAT).

Finally, here are the front lax vowels for both speaker groups (African Americans in green and Southern whites in blue). This is the exact same data presented in the above two graphics except I used a generalized additive model. Monophthongized African American front lax vowels are characterized by parallel F1/F2 movement. Click on the image for a bigger graphic.


This is just a tiny sample of what I’m currently working on; I’m so fascinated by it I couldn’t help but share. Enjoy!

I have a lot of tweaking I plan to do to this methodology (including anchoring the onset/offset to better account for effects of neighboring phonetic environments), but I’m seeing it headed cool places even now.

ETA: This is completely something I’m experimenting with, if I hadn’t made that clear. Comments/suggestions/emails are especially welcome for this reason!

Megan L. Risdal


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Altruistic Collaboration in Academia

I have a lot of writing on the docket for today, so I figured  a good way to get into the groove might be to blog a little bit first. Get those fingers warmed up, you know? So I’ll talk about the reason why I haven’t been as active on my blog as I had been hoping I would be. And no, it’s not for lack of ideas!

As I’m now an affiliated academic, a Master’s student in sociolinguistics at North Carolina State University specifically, I’ve encountered the concept of intellectual property in some pleasant and less pleasant ways. Personally, I like the free sharing of ideas and I’m happy to offer my input on projects as I’ve received so much help with my own projects here at State. It’s not a quid pro quo situation, either. For example, I have this project I started up and it garnered enthusiasm from two other academics in my department (one an ABD student and the other a professor) who immediately (and I mean immediately) generously offered to contribute their corpora and general expertise to my investigation. Simply because we share something in common: we want to know the answer to the questions being asked, academics as we are.

Stemming from their enthusiasm, they have aided me enormously along the way. It’s probably just as much because I’m a completely green sociophonetician as they truly are invested in my work. It’s an absolutely great feeling; this project, ambitious as it is, would not be possible without their contributions. And it’s cases like this where I can’t conceive of how learning and progress can be made without such altruistic collaborations between colleagues. Further, it inspires me to give what I can to those who can benefit from my skillset. For example, many of the students in my program haven’t had a background in advanced statistics whereas on account of my undergraduate major (psychology) I have such a background. I’m strongly motivated to give back what I can when I can.

On the other hand, there is also a guarded, more selfish sentiment present as well, where often the time it takes to help a green sociolinguist isn’t worth it. And I’m speaking generally of what I know about academics as a whole, not just of my department. Personally, I find that I learn just as much from my labmates as I do from my professors. And there seems to be this idea that what we create, how we do what we do, and essentially everything creative about our work is our property that needs protection. I understand it, to agree, but I don’t believe the stuff we’re working on for class projects is in huge danger of being scooped.

So on the one hand, there are enormous benefits to be gained from collaboration and we would be less knowledgeable about the world around us if we didn’t share our ideas and skills. And every field has produced its share of calls for greater interdisciplinary collaboration. On the other, what we create is our currency in academia–I feel this pressure even as I look forward to applying to PhD programs next year whenever I revise my gradually developing CV. How nice it would be to have a first-author publication! So it feels like we are at the same time justified in our desire to defend ownership of our “property.”

Coming back to what this means for my blog. I have been working on a number of projects grown from classes I’m taking in sociophonetics and variety in language. One is in my typical vein of measuring language attitudes; another focuses on ethnic discrimination and perceptual cues in vowel quality; the last is a fine-grained analysis using smoothing spline ANOVAs of two speech communities who show superficial alignment in BAT raising. So I have a lot of lovely things going on. And I would love to share bits and pieces on this blog, but I have not yet resolved how I feel about the competing forces of free sharing of ideas versus the concept of intellectual property. Additionally, I have to weigh the benefits of sharing with the general public of course and also consider my position as a young sociolinguist student.

Right now, I suppose my philosophy on the matter isn’t fully developed. It’s a lot to think about. Any thoughts? For the time being, I’m going to get back to finishing off two class papers and writing two abstracts for submission to conferences. Fingers crossed!

Megan L. Risdal

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Language Attitudes and Speaker Impressions — Survey (please share!)

Hello everyone,

I am working on a class project for a class I am taking at North Carolina State University with Walt Wolfram and I could use your help. I am collecting data via an online survey of language attitudes and speaker impressions. The survey consists of four parts: (1) a short questionnaire designed to assess language attitudes, (2) some demographic questions for statistical purposes, (3) a couple of recordings of individuals telling familiar children’s fairy tales along with questions about your opinions of the speakers and their speech, and (4) a very brief personality questionnaire. I believe it’s a fun, thought-provoking survey and I hope you find it to be so, too.

It would be so very helpful if you would take the time to complete the survey! Anyone over 18 can participate — linguists and non-linguists alike. Note, though, that participation does require you to do some listening. It takes about 15 minutes to finish. If you have any questions about your participation, the survey, or the study’s results, you can email me at mlrisdal (at) ncsu (dot) edu.

Go to survey: http://ncsu.qualtrics.com//SE/?SID=SV_1KNrCTXcTqk62Lb

Thank you so much for your willingness to participate! Please do share this with anyone who may be interested. For the purposes of the study, it is necessary that I receive responses from a broad sample of people, especially geographically and ethnically.

Megan L. Risdal

P.S. I am aware that the audio does not work for some devices or browsers. I apologize if you encounter this issue! To my knowledge, it has worked consistently on PCs and Macs using Chrome.

P.P.S Comments will be removed from this post and saved in my personal documents, so if you wish to give me any messages about the survey, please do so via anonymous comment which you can do at the end of the survey, or via email.


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Just for Fun–Surprise Vowel Plot!

Just for fun, I measured /æ/ among female speakers in the stimuli I’m putting together for a class project. You can see that the African American speakers (in blue and red) have more raised /æ/ than the white female speakers. Both groups are college-aged students from urban North Carolina. Mostly I’m just pleased with the aesthetics of this vowel plot–which I’ve only just been learning how to make! Now on to measuring the males for /æ/ and females and males for /o/! If you can’t tell, I’m loving grad school!

Megan L. Risdal

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A Reflection on Things Learned so Far

What follows is a reflection on a class I’m taking during the first semester of my Master’s at North Carolina State University. I hope you will find it interesting!

Much of what I’ve taken away from my Variety in English class with Walt Wolfram so far relates to overcoming my biases as a researcher with interests in folk linguistics and (perceptual) dialectology.  I believe that becoming more aware of different perspectives and knowledge coming from both the work of other linguists as well as “the folk” will help me to become a better researcher.

Very broadly, it has been very useful for me to learn about the details of regional and ethnic varieties of English in terms of phonological, grammatical, and lexical differences. I am more aware of morphosyntactic distinctions that characterize various varieties of English including African American, Southern, Appalachian, and Cajun Englishes. It has been useful for me to appreciate that each dialect is better described via relative frequencies of usage (e.g., “ing” fronting) rather than binary poles. Because I’m interested in stigmatized varieties of English, it is necessary for me to be able to recognize features that may be discriminatory cues for outsiders.

Related to the above points, I am especially grateful to have gained a better appreciation for the degree of regional differences in African American English across the United States. It is true that a lot of literature I have encountered treats African American English as a relatively invariable monolith. In fact, in my research I believe I have been guilty of participating in this mentality. As I continue to study stigmatized varieties of English, I plan to do a better job of recognizing this diversity that exists. For example, in my current project examining attitudes toward African American English, I will take into consideration the Southern, urban hometowns of the speakers used for the stimuli. It is ironic that sociolinguists would ignore such evident diachronic and synchronic variation within a geographically widespread ethnic variety of English considering the monolithic hypothesis appears at best implausible in retrospect.

In the same vein, this common misconception among sociolinguists points to the biases that exist even for people educated about language and linguistic diversity. Being interested in folk beliefs about language variation and change sometimes pulls my attention away from taking the time to reflect on these aspects of language myself. This idea that linguists carry their own biases and ideologies about language has made an impact on me in a way that I hope will influence my research and interactions with “the folk” in a positive way. Indeed it is almost hypocritical to study folk linguistics while holding these biases. For me the most significant obstacle to overcoming this bias is addressing the artificial or arbitrarily defined “standard variety” to which certain dialects are compared, hence the term used for them: “nonstandard.” For me, it is difficult to reconcile the reality that dialects and language labels are relative, political, and motivated by convenience with the fact that many of the folk do indeed think in terms of “standard American” and “nonstandard.”  This is something I will continue to ponder as I develop as a researcher concerned with stigmatized varieties.

Finally, volunteering for two shifts at the North Carolina Language and Life Project state fair booth reminded me that it is important as an academic to regularly engage the public in discussion about language. I will not survive as a researcher of language attitudes, folk beliefs about language, or perceptual dialectology if I remain cloistered in academia. It is essential that I expose myself to ideas about language that exist for non-linguists, whether positive or negative. Talking with people at the booth made me realize the stories and life histories that are behind attitudes toward language varieties which I had not until now appreciated.

I can now better consider how to take these issues into account when tackling questions and research regarding stigmatized varieties of English, folk perspectives, and language attitudes.

Megan L. Risdal

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