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In our lab, undergraduate research assistants, known as “labbies,” study the intricate nature of Appalachian dialects while also gathering important cultural information. Currently, we are studying vowel variation across generations in West Virginia in a project known as VVAG. In the past, we have examined a variety of linguistic features occurring in Appalachia and West Virginia.

How do we do study language? In order to look at language variation, we utilize audio files and programs like Praat and FAVE for analysis.

First, we take a recording, which often comes from an unscripted interview, a reading passage, or a word list. In this case, our recording is a passage read by one of our labbies, used to create a "SelfV" of her own vowel space. Below is a snippet from the passage.

Then, we take our recording into Praat and make a textgrid to go with it. Textgrids are where we write out what's actually being said in a recording, and isolate the sounds we want to examine. Since vowels are the focus of this SelfV, we put boundaries (represented by blue lines in our textured) around each vowel sound. This is how our audio snippet looks in Praat.


After vowels are located, we can move onto the next step: obtaining data for each of them. We want to locate 11 main vowels within our vowel space, so we take F1 and F2 values for each. Basically, these values, called formants, show us the frequencies of our vowels. We put the F1 and F2 values for each vowel into a spreadsheet, then we plot our vowels in a chart.

Spreadsheet with vowels

Voila! Our final SelfV. Now we can see where our vowels are located, and how close they are to one another. 

Selfie Vowel Chart