Hey, fast-talker… hush!

19 Apr

Apologies for not updating recently, but I’m wading through my thesis, cutting out bits and – more importantly – writing bits for it. I also have over 100 hours of recordings and interviews that I probably should have transcribed as soon as I got back from wherever I went to talk to people. I don’t need all of the material that I’ve gathered (I’m sitting on much less than 100 hours of pertinent data that’s hiding in sentences and behind loud music and I only need transcribe the lines that I need. But first I need to find it all).

I had to write out an interview (with a 30-something year-old man) last year for class. It was 10 minutes long and comparatively easy to transcribe. These interviews are so much more difficult. Especially as I had the wise idea of bribing people to take part in said interviews with chocolate. Most of my recordings consist of groups of hyper-active 19 year-olds giggling and interrupting each other in my 3rd language. I mean, I knew the facts about average spoken WPMs (thanks, Gilmore Girls) but I’ve never felt just how fast around 190 WPM is.

What makes it worse is that transcribing is more than just writing down the words that people say. It’s basically reproducing every sound that comes out of the person’s mouth. If they make a strange, R2D2 noise, you have to mention the number of high-pitched whistles and beeps that they’ve emitted. If a person hesitates, you have to include it in the text. Beautiful example forth-coming:

If they have a stutter= =or stumble over a word you have to wr/ to wr/ (2.6) to write it out the way it happened, hh baby.

One interviewee spoke exclusively in my 4th language, which is very beautiful to listen to, but the thought of transcribing it makes me break out into a cold sweat and grab my IPA sheet. Another has a penchant for throwing Greek words into the mix. He was fun to talk to and interview, but I’m scared about screwing up the transcribing part and not doing his wealth of knowledge justice.

At the same time, it’s a brilliant way of analysing the way in which people speak. Reading some transcriptions makes me feel as though I’m reading a character sheet or page from a script. Listening to a group conversation is a good way of analysing the way that people interact with each other in certain situations.

There are also enlightening moments when people of different cultures interact. For example, New Yorkers (and North Americans) tend to have shorter pauses between one speaker saying something and another replying. Compare that to a conversation between Vietnamese people and the pauses between when one person finishes speaking and another starts and the results are interesting.

I love ethnography.

Has anyone noticed things like that when they’ve heard people from different places conversing amongst themselves? Feel free to leave general ethnography-related comments. 🙂

And now, back to transcription… go and check out who


Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


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7 responses to “Hey, fast-talker… hush!

  1. thelupinelibrarian

    April 19, 2012 at 22:45

    Forgive me if you’ve mentioned this before on your blog, but what is your thesis about? I have little experience interviewing people, but I can’t imagine conducting an interview in my second language. That must be a challenge. Good luck with your project!

    • wildnightin

      April 24, 2012 at 20:32

      The main question’s, ‘Is contemporary Provencal-language music a viable method of reviving the Provencal language in the PACA region?’. I feel a little cagey about mentioning the subject in case it sends people to sleep. 😛 It’s been really fun to do though as it’s basically involved listening to lots of cool-sounding music, speaking to laid-back people (albeit with a tape-recorder sitting between us) and being able to study another language from scratch.

      The interviews were the worst part along with the questionnaires- I made a spelling mistake and most of the people who did the questionnaire corrected it for me. (Oops!) That turned into a mini-essay, sorry.

      I’ve still got one and a bit more chapters to write and translate, then I’ll be back for good!

      You’ve put up quite a few interviews up on your blog and if you’ve really not got much experience then you’re a natural: you have a great rapport with the interviewee, are good at asking intelligent and thought-provoking questions and you’re good at asking follow-up questions. Seriously, we spent weeks studying the ‘right’ way to interview people and you tick all the ‘excellent ethnographic interviewer’ boxes. 😀

      • thelupinelibrarian

        April 24, 2012 at 22:20

        Wow, that actually sounds fascinating (although I’ll admit, I probably wouldn’t be able to understand all of your thesis!) You must be very gifted with languages. When I studied in Santiago de Compostela, I tried to learn gallego (the regional language of Galicia) but it was a little too much for me. Now I can pick out words in gallego and portuguese, but I wish I had a fuller understanding of the languages.

        Thanks for the compliment 🙂 If your interviewees are anything like mine, I’m sure that they really appreciate being interviewed. I am always looking for another author to interview because I can always think of things I would like to ask them!

        Good luck with the interviews and the rest of the research process. And, kudos for all your hard work!

  2. Eljee Javier

    April 23, 2012 at 20:22

    They thanks for the mention in your blog. The fact that you’re researching multilingually is, frankly, astounding. I cannot imagine trying to transcribe anything in my 2nd language (French – which is intermediate level at best) let alone scraping by in English (my native tongue). You might be interested in checking out, may be of interest – they’re a good community for resources and help. Cheers!

    • wildnightin

      May 7, 2012 at 19:32

      Hello, thank you for writing such an interesting blog. I’d never heard the term VEM NESTs before but it sounds like an important field of research. I’d never considered things like race theory and being a native speaker of the language. Forgive the poor wording of the questions, but so far have you found that coming from a VEM affects the way in which you are percieved by learners and potential employers? Also, what constitutes a VEM? I understand that they don’t look like ”traditional” English speakers, but do mixed-race people count? (Just wondering which category I’d be placed in).

      And thank you for putting me on to researchingmultilingually and The Thesis Whisperer. 🙂 There is so much interesting stuff out there!

  3. Ellie

    April 24, 2012 at 19:54

    I have just awarded you the creative chaos award! Have fun!

  4. Eljee Javier

    May 8, 2012 at 17:40

    Hi! Thanks for the encouragement about my blog! Well, to answer your first question, yes, in my own experiences being a VEM has affected how I’ve been perceived by learners and potential employers because they have had different preconceptions of the identity of an English language teacher. There is a general assumption that native English speakers are the better teachers. Unpacking that assumption and exploring how race forms part of this perception of English language teachers is the focus of my research. It’s interesting that you ask what constitutes a “VEM” – I’m in the midst of trying to describe that concept in my thesis. In broad terms a “VEM” is someone who is non-White. I acknowledge that these lines are always clearly delineated and that is what is so fascinating – how people challenge being placed in these binaries (i.e. white / non-white, native speaker/non-native speaker). I’ve been learning a lot from my participants who’ve challenged my own understandings (i.e. preconceptions) of who a native speaker is an in turn, who is a VEM.

    I guess, with regards to yourself, it’s one thing if you consider yourself a VEM it’s another thing if you’re recognised/perceived/accepted/labeled as one. When you switch languages, for example, are you seen as a native speaker at times or do you see yourself as a native speaker of any of your other languages?

    Sorry for the long answer!


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