[Lingtyp] spectrograms in linguistic description and for language comparison
Adam James Ross Tallman
ajrtallman at utexas.edu
Fri Dec 2 10:50:35 UTC 2022
That's what I think as well,
But I'm not so sure this view is widely held ... I've had papers where
reviewers ask for "phonetic evidence" and what they seem to mean is a
single spectrogram or pitch track as if those are informative by themselves
- even aggregated statistical data of acoustic measurements doesn't count.
On Fri, Dec 2, 2022 at 11:41 AM Cat Butz <Cat.Butz at hhu.de> wrote:
> Hi Adam,
> if I saw a single spectrogram in a description of a phenomenon, I'd
> assume it was there for illustrative purposes and nothing else. If we're
> going to conduct empirical research on a phonological phenomenon, we
> have to back it up with statistics, no? Otherwise, why even bother?
> Cat Butz (she)
> HHU Düsseldorf, general linguistics
> Cat Butz (sie)
> HHU Düsseldorf, allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft
> Am 2022-11-27 11:24, schrieb Adam James Ross Tallman:
> > Hello all,
> > I would like to start a conversation about something and I’m taking
> > a shot at lingtyp as a potential starting point for this discussion
> > (perhaps not the right venue, because the issue is perhaps specific to
> > phonological typology).
> > One thing I’ve been confused and/or frustrated about since I started
> > investigating tone and stress has been the use of spectrograms and/or
> > pitch tracks in language description. It seems to me that linguists
> > have very different views about what spectrograms and/or pitch tracks
> > are for, but it has never been brought out in the open, to my
> > knowledge.
> > When I was an MA student, I was basically taught that the main purpose
> > of a spectrogram was to show how one went about measuring some
> > phenomena in the acoustic signal. A pitch track could be an
> > expositional device to show variation in the signal perhaps related to
> > speaker differences or intonation (Cruz & Woodbury 2014). However,
> > spectrograms and pitch tracks are not “phonetic evidence” for a
> > phonological claim. Due to the variability of the phonetic signal,
> > acoustic phonetic data only really becomes phonetic evidence when it
> > is aggregated for the purpose of statistical analysis (Tallman 2010).
> > At least that’s what I thought in 2011, but I realized later that
> > this was not the view shared by many linguists and, at least among
> > non-phoneticians, my position is perhaps a minority one. In grammars
> > and descriptive works, linguists often present individual spectrograms
> > and pitch tracks as one off data points that support a claim. In the
> > vast majority of the cases (except perhaps when vastly different
> > intonational contours are being compared), I often struggle to know
> > what the purpose of these displays or pictures are. How do we know
> > they are not cherry picked? How do we know that these displays are
> > representative?
> > The differences of opinion about the use of spectrograms have emerged
> > for me in the reviewing process – one reviewer says this spectrogram
> > is useless, another says it's informative etc. one reviewer demands a
> > pitch track, another says it does not communicate anything . etc.
> > Opinions are simultaneously contradictory but aggressive and
> > definitive.
> > Sometimes the subtlety of the pitch phenomena the linguist is
> > describing is way out of step with the ability of the pitch track to
> > represent. I look at the pitch track and I think: “I cannot
> > distinguish between pitch phenomena associated with tones and
> > microprosody in this example so it is unclear what the purpose of the
> > pitch track is or what it adds” or “if you were to tell me what
> > tones the language had and give me this spectrogram / pitch track, I
> > would not be able to associate them with any of the syllables in any
> > consistent way”. Or perhaps the algorithm used to draw pitch isn’t
> > appropriate and it's very difficult to understand what is being
> > communicated by the display.
> > I have started to wonder whether there were any guidelines or
> > conventions for the use of spectrograms and whether others perhaps had
> > any thoughts on the issue. Specifically I am interested in the idea
> > that a single spectrogram could serve as “phonetic evidence”. I
> > still find this view strange in light of the well known
> > “stochastic” and “multivariate” relationship between
> > phonological categories and phonetic realization (Pierrehumbert,
> > Beckman, Ladd 2000; Mazaudon 2014, among many others), but it still
> > seems to be widely held in our field.
> > Cruz, E. & Woodbury, A. C. 2014. Finding a way into a family of tone
> > languages: The story and methods of the Chatino Language Documentation
> > Project. _Language Documentation & Conservation _8:490-524.
> > Mazaudon, M. 2014. Studying emergent tone-systems in Nepal: Pitch,
> > phonation and word-tone in Tamang. _Language Documentation &
> > Conversation _8:587-612.
> > Pierrehumbert, J., Beckman, M. and Ladd, D. 2000. Conceptual
> > foundations of phonology as a laboratory science. _Phonological
> > knowledge: Conceptual and empirical issues. _Oxford: Oxford University
> > Press.
> > Tallman, Adam. J.R. 2010. Acoustic correlates of Lenis and Fortis
> > Stops in Manitoba Saulteaux. MA Thesis: University of Manitoba.
> > --
> > Adam J.R. Tallman
> > Post-doctoral Researcher
> > Friedrich Schiller Universität
> > Department of English Studies
> > _______________________________________________
> > Lingtyp mailing list
> > Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
> > https://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp
Adam J.R. Tallman
Friedrich Schiller Universität
Department of English Studies
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