Lars Hinrichs Associate Professor of Linguistics, University of Texas at Austin
Axel Bohmann Assistant Professor of English, University of Freiburg
In our latest Digi Colloquium, guest speakers Lars Hinrichs and Axel Bohmann presented “The Promise of Nine Decades’ Worth of Interviews: Building the Digital Archive of Texas English Speech”, in which they discussed the process of creating the Digital Archive of Texas English Speech, and how this archive can be used to map linguistic changes in Texas English over time.
The Digital Archive of Texas English Speech (DATES), a legacy archive containing recordings from 1934 to 2020, includes data that was originally collected using a variety of media: gramophone recordings in the 1930s to 1950s; reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, and survey forms in the 1970s and 1980s; and digital recordings in the 2010s. The first stage of the DATES project therefore involved digitizing the older records. All digital records were also prepared for linguistic analysis by aligning the audio with its transcript, allowing individual words and sounds to be extracted and measured.
In this lecture, Hinrichs and Bohmann discussed three changing features of Texas English that they have analyzed using DATES: including the vowel in price, the vowels in lot and thought, and the vowels in bit, bet, bat. Using acoustic data from the recordings, they demonstrated that these first two features have consistently developed to become more similar to General American English between the 1980s and 2010s, and that the bit/bet/bat vowels are undergoing a shift that has also been seen in Canadian and California English. They also raised the possibility that pronunciation changes in Texas English may not have developed in a linear way over time: in some cases, vowels from the 1950s were more similar to those from the 2010s than the 1980s, which may mean that Texas English developed to become more distinct from mainstream American English at some point in the 20th century. These findings demonstrate the utility of a legacy archive like DATES for tracking linguistic change over time.