Intonation and diachrony: A phonetic investigation of the effects of language contact on intonational patterns

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Linguistics Philology and Phonetics

Abstract

The way we speak is influenced by factors such as age, sex, where we grow up and social interactions over our lifetimes. Most people know that regional dialects may use different words (a 'bread roll' is a 'cob' in the East Midlands) or vary in individual sounds (Londoners will tend to pronounce 'think' as 'fink'), but are generally not aware of differences in intonation, the melody of speech. For example in Southern British English the sentence Jack did it, ending with the voice going down, typically signals a statement, but when the voice goes up it becomes a request for confirmation. But in Belfast English a rising pitch is used for both meanings. Therefore our speech patterns reveal not only what we want to put across, but also a speaker's language or region.

Studying those differences has the power to uncover past and present ethnic interactions. In this project we analyse the selected speech melodies from regions where Greeks lived alongside speakers of other languages. Broadly, our main goal is to find out how the differences in the details of those melodies inform us about the nature of contact between a) Greek and Turkish and b) Greek and Italian populations.

A sample of recordings we analysed shows that Greek dialects hailing from the Anatolian peninsula (modern Turkey) have Turkish traits, even though the people whose speech we examined are not in contact with Turks any longer. This is a promising finding, making a contemporary dialect a window to the past: it shows that the Greek and Turkish communities had not only co-existed, but they closely interacted. We will test this initial result on a larger corpus of Greek-Turkish speech from the Anatolian peninsula (continuing the research we started for this region), and Cyprus, to ensure statistical robustness of our result. Cypriot intonation patterns can throw light on the extent of Turkish-Greek interactions on the divided island. We will also analyse the intonation of Greeks from Crete and Corfu (where Italian speakers used to live), to discover what it reveals about past Greek-Italian interactions on those islands. This is our second goal i.e. to see how fine differences in speech melodies may have resulted from different lengths and types of population co-habitations.

Our third goal is to determine how intonation continues to change over time after contact between the languages in question has ceased. To do so, we will carry out a longitudinal study of the Anatolian peninsula Greek to establish how the changing history of the contact between Greek and Turkish speakers has affected the intonation of this dialect over time. We are in a unique position to do so because we amassed a corpus of recordings of five generations of Greeks from Asia Minor and the Balkan peninsula (dating back to 1917), courtesy of several institutions and researchers.

The value of our investigation lies in a novel approach to the study of language history and change. There are two aspects to this: first, we study a hundred years of historical influences on a language through the analysis of spoken records rather than the typical investigation of texts; second, we compare intonation instead of the more common investigations of vowels and consonants. The first has not been feasible in such depth of time due to the near-impossibility of collecting such corpora. The second has not been attempted within the traditional historical linguistic framework that relied on comparisons of individual speech sounds from audio recordings or written transcripts. Our method combines mathematical modelling, speech processing and theory of intonation in order to refine general linguistic theory, a combination not applied before. The insights gained from this project could then be applied to other languages, e.g. the influence of French on English in Canada or Spanish on English in Gibraltar, with the ultimate goal of understanding how languages change over time.

Planned Impact

The content and delivery of the programme activities will be divided among the co-investigators, all experienced in the study of spoken language, as well as in effective knowledge exchange with research users. The combination of our fields of expertise (i.e. Greek intonation, EFL teacher training and work with pre-degree students, phonetic analysis and speech technology) allows us to engage with the public in a multi-faceted way. Impact activities will engage three types of audience (details in Pathways to Impact):
1. General public. We will organise an exhibition at the Hellenic Centre in London (http://www.helleniccentre.org/), containing posters, interactive self-guided audio and video of dialectal speech, song, dance and narratives from across modern Greek history as well as rare gramophone recordings of speech and songs from the 1920s. These are part of the cultural and linguistic heritage of the dialects we investigate. Making them available will enrich public knowledge and also showcase the active role of academia in preserving and disseminating cultural heritage. The Centre is a focus for the Hellenic community and through it we will promote awareness of Greek culture in the UK and nurture the relationship between Britain and the Hellenic world. A second exhibition will form part of the Creative Multilingualism project, targeting the general public, currently running at the University of Oxford (http://www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk/). This interactive exhibition, 'It's all Greek!', using similar materials as above, will focus on the rich variability in the melodies of statements and questions across the language varieties in our corpus. It will underline the fact that individuals in modern societies are polyglot, adapt to using different language varieties in different linguistic contexts and in the process become the vehicles for linguistic and cultural change.
2. Non-tertiary education: A. We plan a 'Half a day of Linguistics for secondary schools' event at the Natural History Museum in Oxford. The aim is to transfer knowledge to secondary education about linguistics as a science and about interdisciplinary approaches like our project. B. The proposed project website will contribute to our outreach plans with a Q&A page with materials for A-level English language and linguistics and also Greek language students and teachers. C. A training resource will be created for foreign language teachers and other speech professionals in the UK based on our corpus to present audio material from an unknown language (Greek varieties) with no semantic information, to help develop auditory/perceptual skills for intonation. D. We will provide seminars on the intonation of Greek dialects to secondary education teachers of Greek at the School of Modern Greek Language (https://www.auth.gr/en/units/8165). These seminars will contribute to public awareness of dialect and percolate our knowledge to Greek secondary school students through their teachers.
3. Speech technology industry: A. We have already established connections with the natural language technology sector (see support letter from the ILSP institute). Our dialectal data will enhance their systems' effectiveness and broaden the applicability of their commercial products. We will benefit from liaising with Oxford University Innovation (https://innovation.ox.ac.uk/about/), who support staff and students with commercial skills and a range of specialist resources in order to maximise research impact. B. We will participate, with a demonstration on modelling intonation, in the annual school of Speech Processing in Crete whose published aim is "establishing contact between academics and industry" and whose attendees include industry professionals. C. We will invite speech processing professionals to a one-day workshop in Oxford, with demonstrations and presentations from our project to generate interest in it, receive feedback and share the methods developed for intonation modelling.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description 'Tone and intonation in Europe' conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Approximately 70 Linguists ranging from graduate students to professors attended the conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.phon.ox.ac.uk/greekincontact
 
Description Presentation in "16th Conference on Laboratory Phonology" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact There were approximately 270 attendees in the conference, ranging from postgraduate students to professors. The presentation informed the audience on results of our research and increased interest in historical intonation studies, which is a fairly new field in linguistics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.phon.ox.ac.uk/greekincontact