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Eliciting young urban Swedish using a map-task procedure

Authors Johan Gross
Julia Forsberg
Published in NWAV 44, Toronto 22-25/10 2015
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Language en
Keywords map task, sociolinguistics, phonetics, sociophonetics, vowels, variation and change, consonants, linguistic methodology, adolscent speech
Subject categories Linguistics, Phonetics, Bilingualism, Scandinavian languages, Other Germanic languages


Eliciting young urban Swedish using a map-task procedure

Within quantitative sociolinguistics three central issues are to be considered when collecting data: eliciting the speaker’s vernacular; overcoming the observer's paradox; and ensuring that the number of tokens enables robust statistical analysis (see additional criteria listed in Labov 1984: 50). The sociolinguistic interview (Labov 1984) attempts to address these issues but provides no guarantee that the necessary number of tokens will be collected. While reading passages and word lists have been used as supplements, these solutions yield a bias towards a more formal context and careful speech style, which is far from optimal for sociolinguistic research (Labov 1972; Yaeger-Dror 2001). Casual speech is also more difficult to obtain when the power imbalance between speakers is greater (Eckert 2013), such as in an interview setting between an adult researcher and an adolescent. How then can we create a situation where we can control the language production and still keep the attention paid to speech at a minimum?

In order to develop a new corpus of young people’s Swedish, Språkbruk i Stockholm och Göteborg (SSG, ‘Language Use in Stockholm and Gothenburg’) we developed a set of stimuli in the form of map-tasks, a method previously used in various areas of linguistics (e.g. Anderson et al 1991; Grønnum 2009; Scobbie et al 2013; Nolan & Post 2013). However, we created a more complex task by using a larger number of unlabelled objects on each map (approximately 40) and by omitting and varying the images on the paired maps, prompting both interlocutors to become more interactive in solving the task. In addition, as the task was carried out with self-recruited pairs, interaction between friends was obtained, which we could expect to approach the vernacular more than in interviews between a young person and a researcher. We recorded interviews and map-tasks with 111 students between the ages of 16-19 at 4 schools: one in the centre and suburb of each city.

This paper will evaluate the data collection procedure in SSG using Labov’s criteria, cited above. All recordings were made in the same way, using headset microphones, ensuring good quality, multi-channel recordings of two informants interacting with each other. The interview (inspired by the sociolinguistic interview) had two main purposes: collecting demographic data; and allowing informants to familiarise themselves with us and the recording setup, minimising the effects of observation. The combination of map-tasks and interviews enabled us to collect 75 hours of dialogue from a good sample of the relevant population in the ten-week timeframe available to us.

Preliminary results show that each minute of map-task recording gives a mean of 9 usable vowel tokens, while in the interview recordings each minute gives 1-2 usable vowel tokens. Initial acoustic analysis of the two contexts/speaking styles shows higher token quality in the map-tasks as a larger number of vowel tokens are stressed. Furthermore, informants become more active and involved than in the interview. All results indicate that this is a robust method for eliciting sociophonetic data in spontaneous peer interaction.

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