The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 4/29: Bane, Graff, & Sonderegger

Speakers: Max Bane (University of Chicago), Peter Graff (MIT), Morgan Sonderegger (University of Chicago)
Title: Longitudinal phonetic variation in a closed system
Time: Thurs 4/29, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

Previous work shows that in short term, laboratory settings, aspects of one’s speech can change under exposure to the speech of others (e.g. Goldinger 1998, Nielsen 2007), and that this change is mediated by social variables such as (speaker) gender (e.g. Namy et al. 2002, Pardo 2006). An implicit hypothesis is that these effects can help explain dialect formation and the social stratification of speech. However, it is not known whether such change occurs in natural interaction over a longer term.

This study shows longitudinal change in VOT in a closed linguistic system, mediated by social interaction. Our corpus consists of speech from Big Brother UK (2008), a reality TV show in which 16 contestants live in a house for 93 days, subject to 24 hour audio/video recording. VOT was measured for 4 contestants over the season. We model the effect of time on VOT for different contestants, controlling for known confounds (e.g. speech rate, place of articulation), and allowing for intrinsic differences in the VOTs of different words. Each contestant’s modeled VOT time trajectory shows significant longitudinal change, and all trajectories appear to move closer together over time.

We then examine the effect of two measures of social interaction on differences between VOT trajectories for pairs of contestants. The more a pair interacts, as measured via live blog entries by a UK newspaper, the closer their VOTs become. When a pair is on the same side of an artificial divide in the house (present for half the season), their VOTs become closer than if they are on different sides.