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The WVDP Experience

These are some biographies written by WVDP Staff about their experiences with the project. 

Maddi Moore traveled with the WVDP all the way to Eugene, Oregon to attend NWAV48 in the fall of 2019. This is her experience at the academic conference:

My name is Maddi Moore and I was lucky enough to be a part of the West Virginia Dialect Project, working with Dr. Kirk Hazen and my peers. My time spent dedicated to this project was educational and provided me with a new perspective and appreciation for the English language. Through the English Language course (ENGL 221) at WVU, I was introduced to linguistics. In my own words, I would describe linguistics as the science of language.

It was captivating to learn how our language has changed over time. For instance, the word “like” being used as a filler is much more prominent among younger generations. Its use is similar to that of the words “um” and “uh.” 

“Um” and “uh” sounds are central, lax vowels. This means that they are produced in the middle of your mouth. Here is a linguistic exercise you can try to see the different ways your mouth pronounces each letter:

Say the words “top” and “boot” out loud. You will recognize that the sounds of each letter and where they are produced are different. Your mouth will change shape and your tongue will move to different areas of your mouth to make the sounds possible. Notice how the “p” sound in “top” and the “b” sound in “boot” are produced in the same region of your mouth, except “b” makes use of your vocal cords and “p” does not. You can try this with other letters of the alphabet to see where and how you produce them! 

Learning how and where words are produced both in our culture and in my own mouth was a fascinating experience. Working closely alongside my peers, we used computer programs Praat and Elan to analyze research information. These two programs allowed us to do close data analysis of interviews. We analyzed spectrograms and sound waves from the interviews to create a plot of where the vowels were produced in the mouth. This was accomplished through tedious attention to detail and hours of interview analysis. I worked closely with recordings of locals in Preston County, WV. Most of the interviewees spoke with a distinctly southern accent. 

Another great part of my experience with WVDP included the opportunity to participate in an academic conference, where we were presenting our Preston County interviews. The idea of presenting at an academic conference was overwhelming at first, because my peers and I did not have much prior experience doing so. Upon arrival, we were fortunate to catch a few other presentations before they concluded for the day. We were even lucky enough to sit in at an undergraduate presentation on Kansas and their diversity among speakers. My favorite presentation was on Boston! The presenter did a great job and kept it lighthearted.

I won’t lie, at times I was lost in some of the presentations because of the linguistic jargon and how advanced the research was. But I didn’t get discouraged, because when someone was presenting research from a vowel shift, I was like, “Hey, I know what this is, and what a cool way to present it!” I mean, he used a voiced animation of the vowel shift. Genius. 

We attended the conference for three days and presented on the last day. Dr. Hazen gave instructions for each step along the way. By following his lead and learning from his years of research, we were able to give a successful presentation. 

This experience also provided us with a connection to research other linguists’ discoveries around the world. Yes, around the world. It was awesome that we had the opportunity to listen to international scholars discuss their findings and how language progresses over time. This conference was an eye-opener for an area of research that, at times, seemed small and away from reality. Our work was brought to life through the realization that other people are doing some of the same work we are and trying to prove their own theories. 

Overall, I really enjoyed my time spent in the lab and all of the cool things that I learned. The friends I made through working and traveling with the Dialect Project will always be cherished. I hope that everyone realizes how important studies like these are, and continue to absorb the information they provide us. If you’re reading this as an undergraduate English major taking the 221 class, I hope you have enjoyed the class. It’s so much fun once you understand the building blocks behind the larger concepts. I want to thank everyone who gave me the opportunity to work on the project, and for your patience as we all embarked on a journey of learning the software and coding. I will always remember my time at WVDP. Let’s go Mountaineers!