Accent Shift: January

Here’s the fourth installation of The Great Accent Shift project I’ve been working on since September. Recording and analysis were far too difficult over the Christmas period, but I’m back in 2014 with a list of words and a small bit of commentary on Labovian phonetics.

I am in the middle of exam period, and does it ever show in my voice. I hear a lot more vocal fry (creaky voicing) than is normal for me, even as a member of one of the speech communities that has a tendency to over use it (western US, young, educated women). I wrote a paper about epigenetics, human evolution, and language earlier this morning (all in one go) and last weekend was the hardest I’ve ever studied in my life. My internet was out, and  I was at the library open to close almost three days in a row (if you count being kick rout for trying to study too early on Monday…yes, you heard me). Further complication came on Saturday night, when I’d already spent at least seven hours pouring over my Syntax exam and a fight broke out in Pizza Express. I will write more about the situation later, but suffice it to say that I called a racist “a fucking arsehole.” To his face.

It was an exhausting weekend.

To analysis! Firstly, it seems that some words are drifting, although I sound very Statesian overall. I took the word lists from September and the one from today to run through Praat, the phonetics software. At first glance, not so different.

Waveform and Spectrographs for "cot, pillow, toothpick, aluminium"

Waveform and Spectrographs for “cot, pillow, toothpick, aluminium”

But then I looked at and listened to “cot.” In September, it had a dental-alvelolar ‘t’ with almost no plosion. Today’s had a fully plosive ‘t’ at the end of it (making a minimal pair something along the lines of <kɑt, kɔtˈ> in IPA).

Two different 'cots'

Two different ‘cots,’ today on top, September on the bottom

That’s strange. I’ve uploaded the two lists for comparisons’ sake. Tell me if you hear a difference, and if so, where?

Considerable debate rages in linguistics about whether this type of sociolinguistic ‘data’ (since it’s not really an experiment) is valid, or indeed whether it matters that accents and dialect choices occur. I say it matters; people notice immediately that I am different here the moment I open my mouth. There is far more than just accent at work, including the formality of the situation and especially whether I’m teaching or not…and how I feel at that moment. The vocal fry is indicative of how exhausted I am this week, after writing nearly 30 pages of text in a weekend for an exam (with tree diagrams!). My brain had to handle the Tree of Death, and I barely slept or ate during the whole time. I jokingly called it ‘Syntaxorexia.’ But seriously, I probably lost three pounds.

The Tree of Death. This isn't even it's final form...

The Tree of Death. This isn’t even it’s final form…

I can hear the creaky voice, and probably see it a bit in the graphics of my voice. Note the big fat striations on the waveforms here for the word ‘or’ in creaky voicing. You can hear ‘creaky voice’ a lot in GenAm accents, especially when people are tired. President Obama has it show up all the time, actually.

You can see my vocal chords snapping together weirdly in the striations.

You can see my vocal chords snapping together weirdly in the striations.

A big discovery in today’s recording; I’m starting to go non-rhotic for certain words. Rhoticity is a term for the ‘r’ sounds in dialects of English. In Southern Standard British English, there practically is no ‘r’ sound in the middles and ends of words, and it only appears at the beginning (or in strange places where there is no ‘r’ in the written word, like in ‘paster’ for ‘pasta’ almost like some Boston accents — Think JFK). Rhoticity is a hallmark of the General American accent I have from home, but I am definitely starting to drop more of the ‘r’ sound in certain words. Below are waveforms and spectrographs for the word <comfortable>.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 08.43.25

The r is missing in the one from today!

As it turned out, my recording of my casual speech is too quiet to analyse. Oh well, next time. The beginnings of some change, perhaps. It’s unlikely that my accent will become fully SSBE, unless I make a conscious decision to do so. It’s likely to always remain mostly GenAm, with dialectical differences.

The Great Accent Shift 2013 – November

It’s a two-post type day. Here’s the latest video from my long-term, accent-tracking project. Warning: I forget how to speak at one point and out pops a swear that I lack the skill to edit out. The NSFW language is just after 4 minutes in. And if you watch this, Nana, I didn’t mean at all that your way of saying “Salmon” is bad! It was just cute it came out that way.

I’m not going to analyse this just yet, because I’m a little too tired from this week to do additional work. Will analyse tomorrow or Sunday. Enjoy the video!

Totally confused? Get the details on what this is about and why I’m talking for ten minutes on Youtube. And then watch October’s video.

Disclaimer: This is The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE). It is essentially the Jersey Shore, but perhaps even more scripted, and NOT representative of Essex in reality. Take it with a massive grain of salt, and listen to the accent. 

The Great Accent Shift – October 2013

My throat is really sore!

My throat is really sore!

39 days ago, I moved to England. One month ago, I started a long-term accent tracking project. This is the second instalment of the Great Accent Shift 2013.

There were some pretty hefty online criticisms of the first video, for selection biases and experimental design. While I recognise that there would be those issues if this were, say, my dissertation project (which would never happen)…this is mostly for fun. And for practice. I am hoping to go into the field of Phonetics in some form or another over the course of the next few years, and this project gives me the means to practice using some of the software I will need to be familiar with to succeed.

Today my voice is considerably lower than last month, and squeaky. I had to take class off today because I’m feeling really horrible. This may even make my accent more ‘authentic’ to how I speak when relaxed, because I’m less able to modulate my voice and frankly, I care less.

Here is the second installation:

Even as I spoke, I noticed a slight difference on some words and in the ways that I was speaking. The words in the list that I read are ones that are likely to show accent shift, because they are ones that vary across English accents. My accent in the US is known as Western General American, and a characteristic of that accent is that one says the words ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ with almost exactly the same sound. I ran the two recordings of the word ‘caught’ through Praat, a free software program that phoneticians use to analyse speech.

September

September

October

October

The lines on the blue parts are called ‘waveforms,’ and they give information about the pitch, loudness, duration, and quality of the sound recorded. This is a double recording, from the video onto Praat. Thus, not really acceptable for true scientific enquiry. Whatever. They look different to my (mostly untrained) eye. See those red dots? They track some aspects of the vowel in a sound, the formants. They look different to me! Maybe a small shift from the ‘caught’ of my Western General American accent? Next up, “Alabama.”

September

September

October

October

To my ear, the two readings sounded different. In the analysis in Praat, they look pretty similar. Like I said in the video, even if there is no change over a year at all, that is a result in itself. It’s likely that certain words will drift more than others, as is already happening. Another visible change was the rhotic (r) pronunciation in “February.”

September

September

October

October

Those waveforms look quite different! The reason is that in the October recording, I pronounced the ‘r’ in Feb-bru-ary, whereas in September I said my original Feb-bu-ary and skipped the r. I hadn’t really thought of this being a regional accent thing until my boyfriend came home and said the former without any prompting from me. A closer look at the r portion of the speech shows a visible difference in quality, even though my very limited phonetic training prevents me from putting it into technical terms.

September

September

October

October

Those blue lines are pitch, by the way. I’m still learning Praat.

So it appears that something may or may not be happening with the way I speak, 39 days into living in London. Next month I will add a natural conversation to the mix and try for better analysis! In the meantime, remember that this is just for fun, and that it’s not a real experiment.

"Real Experiment"

“Real Experiment”

Edit: I’m not using IPA symbols here because I’m still learning them, but by the end of the year I will. Also, I forgot to include that I dropped a ‘t’ in today’s recording when I said “It’s not a real experiment” at the beginning. It came out more like “It’s no(glottal stop) a” almost “notta” in an East London-ish accent. Behold. 

Dropping a t

Dropping a t