Rob Hagiwara's Monthly Mystery Spectrogram Webzone

Welcome to the Monthly Mystery Spectrogram webzone. These pages are Rob Hagiwara's professional web-space. For personal musings, please see Rob's blog.

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This is my research page, where you can read about my research interests, current research projects, past research, or you can go to my list of research links.

Research interests

Quick version

Phonetic theory, phonetic variation and linguistic representations, spectrographic analysis, sex and gender as phonetic variables, dialect, clinical applications of theoretical and experimental phonetic models.

For more information about my educational background, publications and presentations, etc., please see my CV.

What is phonetics?

The answer to this depends a lot on who you ask, but generally phonetics is the scientific study of speech sounds. In my view, this includes the study of speech acoustics, articulation, motor control, and perception, and the underlying physiological and psychological mechanisms.

I'm trained primarily as a linguistic phonetician, which means I'm concerned ultimately with the knowledge required to produce and understand spoken language.

Longer version

Okay, so I'm a linguistic phonetician. I'm interested in what it is someone knows, mentally, about what it is they do, physically, when they speak their language. I'm primarily interested in speech production—what it is that controls how people talk, and why does one sound differ from another sound depending on speaker and 'context'.

It's that notion of 'context' where things get fuzzy. I started out particularly interested in gender as opposed to physiological sex as a factor in production variation. If men and women talk differently, do they do so for learned, social reasons or for (physiologically) inevitable reasons? Turns out, as with so many things, the answer is 'well, both'. And teasing apart the differences is a big thing for me.

Lately the principal source of variation I've been considering is 'dialect', which I equate roughly with 'linguistic identity'. So people use language symbolically for culture, and speak as members of social groups—which in my thinking can be anything (an ethnic community, a geographic region, a social class, a profession, a gender—anything that can be performed or perceived as 'how we/they speak').

So on those criteria, I'm interested in similar things as sociolinguists. But rather than being interested in the relationship of social structures to language/speech variables, I'm interested in what it is that's varying when people vary them, how they do it, and especially in quantifying to what degree they do it.

My favo(u)red tool is acoustic analysis, especially spectrographic analysis, as way of imaging acoustic structure, which I see as the bridge between articulation and perception.

For the record, I've mostly worked in English (when you're interested in women's speech, you don't have to go very far to get data), but at various points in my career I've dabbled in morphosyntax and argument structure of Lushootseed (Salishan, Northwest Coast USA), phonology and morphology of Garifuna (Arawakan, Central America), and more recently various phonetic and structural issues in Yorùbá. I want to work on exotic languages again. Lately I've been considering American Sign Language from a phonetic (rather than phonological) perspective, although exactly where that's going I'm not 100% sure.


Current projects

Okay, in my heart of hearts, I still believe I work on approximant consonants, and gender. But I haven't actually looked seriously at an approximant in years. I tried a few years ago, but the task was too, well, let's just say 'odd' for the average speaker. It's tough to measure stuff when the speaker is giggling through the whole task. Besides, now that I live and work in Canada, there's a fair amount of groundwork that needs to be done first.

So most of my work lately has been on vowels. The current project is conceived in three "stages", each of which is semi-independent and open-ended (in the sense that we can add datapoints—i.e. speakers—to any of them at any time). I started calling this series of studies The Winnipeg Vowels Project, just to have something to call it.

Stage 1 — Acoustic structure of Canadian English vowel contrasts
This project is set to work out the acoustic baselines (i.e. durations and formant frequencies) of the vowels among a younger adult (i.e. university aged) population of monolingual English speakers, using more or less the experimental paradigm set out by Peterson and Barney (1952) and again by Hillenbrand, Getty, Clarke and Wheeler (1994). As I argued in Hagiwara (1997) we need much more such data to facilitate comparisons. So the first pass for my research in Canada was to record local speakers reading /hVd/ and /hVt/ context vowels, measuring their durations and formant frequencies (at three places in the vowel). I started presenting some of this data early in 2005 (see Selected papers below).
Stage 2 — Winnipeg English vowels in socio-historical context
In this part of the project, I extend the method in Stage 1 to include an older cohort (to check for age-related and presumably in-apparent-time patterns in the acoustics of the vowels. I'll also be paying more attention to the geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic indicators in the speaker's backgrounds, something which I sort of allow as 'normal variation' in Stage 1. Since there are lots of theories about how socio-historical factors effect linguistic variation, especially in phonetics/phonology, this seems most material in relating the Winnipeg data to trends in the rest of Canadian English.
Stage 3 — French and English in contact: The vowels of Winnipeg bilingual francophones
Winnipeg has a large and vibrant francophone population. The adults are almost fully bilingual, although the kids don't start out that way. I've noticed that the francophones can identify each other through their English, but the anglophones can't. So there's something going on in the vowels in both their English (which doesn't sound accented to me, but then I'm not even a Canadian anglophone) and no one has ever studied the French. Ya gotta start somewhere, so this is where we'll start.
Later stages
As the work continues, hopefully with other people (especially students signed on) we'll turn these things into other projects, but there are some obvious directions to take this research. First, I'm very interested in quantifying the difference(s) between the relatively careful, formal speech we look at in experimental work, with more casual conversation. That's the whole point of having 'baselines'.to have some kind of standard of comparison. Then there's the English, French, and low German in the surrounding villages, which is amazing, and from what I can tell 'atypical' of Canadian French (which is usually taken to mean Québecois). And of course, I'd like to move into approximants and prosody, which is what I thought I'd be doing all along.

Selected papers

Some of the "stage 1" work from the Winnipeg vowels project has been presented in various venues. "How general is 'General Canadian'? Vowel production in Winnipeg" was presented at the Canadian English in the Global Context conference held last year in hono(u)r of Jack Chambers. The abstract from the presentation is available from the conference website (last time I checked). The paper turned out to be less about the 'general Canadian' issue, and so the written version (which just came out in CJL) is just called "Vowel Production in Winnipeg".

At the 149th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Vancouver, I presented "Revisiting the Canadian English vowel space". I have PDFed the poster down to legal-page size for general consumption. I was also asked to prepare a civilian-friendly version for the ASA's 'on-line press room'.

I presented some material from Californian and Canadian at the 150th meeting of the ASA, in a poster called "Monophthongs and formant movement in North American English". I have PDFed the each of the three panels of the poster onto a letter-sized page and put them together into a three-page file.

As I said before, some of the Californian stuff was presented at the 150th ASA. It's funny. You work on a poster intending to talk about one thing, ad you end up discovering what the 'punchline' (or 'hook') should have been. The good news is that if it's a poster, you can still write a proper paper with the right point of view.

So I was going to get two papers out last year, but I a) hit a statistical, um, problem, and b) ended up in a depressive spiral that ended with me seeking medication. So this summer, finally, I'm hoping to get them out: "The acoustic character of Canadian Raising" (possibly for JPhon or Phonetica) based on the Canadian stuff I have so far, and "Spectral change in southern California vowels" (possibly for JIPA) based on my re-measurement of the California stuff. First job is to spend &deity;-knows-how-long re-arranging data in the spreadsheet to run what I hope will be a 'better' statistical test (in the sense of actually revealing something interesting) on the two datasets.

Anyway, when these papers are in a state for general consumption, I'll post PDFs of drafts or something here.

Unselected (?) papers

People occasionally ask for copies of older papers. Thanks to the folks at the California Digital Library, many of my old papers (from UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics) are now on-line, including my dissertation. So things from WPP are linked to the CDL website. You'll be taken to the appropriate page, you'll have to download the PDF of the volume, and then go searching for the right pages. Not that much trouble, and frees up my account a lot. So that's how we're going to do this. Other papers are quick and dirty scans, PDFed and available from here.

Links to selected websites

It would be impossible, and repetitious, to link to every speech or linguistics site around the world. So here are some that I think are particularly important or near and dear to my heart.

Professional organizations

Labs and working groups

Other web resources

Reciprocal links

I've been noticing (thanks to the folks at StatCounter) that I get a lot of referrals from these pages (as well as Jennifer Smith's listing). And so in a fit of community-building, here are links back.