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There is a long tradition in disciplines of linguistics and phonetics of visualizing speakers’ vowel systems through transformations of acoustic measurements of vowel formants (resonances) into two-dimensional x-y plots (since Joos 1948; see also the discussion in Watt, Fabricius and Kendall 2011). Within sociolinguistics, these plots have served not just as illustrations of vowel change processes, but have actually formed an integral part of the analytical process, as evidenced for example by Labov’s concept of peripherality which plays a central theoretical role in his typology of diachronic changes to high and mid vowels (Labov 1994). Recent work in visualizing vowel systems has begun to move beyond the static geometric x-y plot and experimented with, for example, three-dimensional representations (Fridland and Kendall 2009) and with showing animated trajectories of vowel systems in communities over decades (Fruehwald 2011). New computational speech-processing possibilities, including forced alignment, open up this area for innovative analyses and presentation methods. In this paper, we will present a proof-of-concept for the visualization of vowels and the vowel space in real-time speech, using data from a conversational interview. While a speech recording is played, the F1 and F2 values of vowels are plotted on two-dimensional vowel plots, allowing viewers to watch the unfolding of vocalic characteristics within a speech event over time, and enabling researchers to examine such speech data in new ways, both qualitatively and quantitatively. This type of representation has the potential to contribute new insights to our understanding of both intra- and inter-speaker variation in interaction, as well as long- and short-term speech accommodation under inter-variety linguistic contact of many kinds. In addition to its research implications, real-time vowel plotting provides a helpful visualization for phonetics and sociophonetics students to develop their understanding of the vowel space. With this preliminary work, we hope to encourage further advances in the visualization of vocalic production.
With Charlotte Vaughn (Northwestern University) and Tyler Kendall (University of Oregon)