Over the summer, I worked with Professor Kuang at the Linguistics lab. We spent time testing speakers of tonal languages (musicians and non-musicians). Subjects completed various tasks (like comparing melodies) intended to determine their ability to reproduce and discriminate pitch. There were two main parts to my job; running these experiments and analyzing the resulting data. Both parts were relatively straight-forward, though the data analysis portion required a bit of preparation and training which Professor Kuang was happy to help me with. The data analysis was about cutting a subject’s spoken sounds into specific sounds like “t” and “e.” This was then run through another program, VoiceSauce.
From these two jobs I learned a lot about the world of Linguistics. In running the experiments, I saw the effect that clear instructions had on the subjects in making things run much more smoothly. I learned the value of pre-prepared materials, but that the ability to adapt to changing situations is perhaps even more important. And through working with tonal speakers almost daily, I realized that knowledge of a tonal language does not necessarily help a person on pitch-related tasks. Much of the data still has to be analyzed, but I look forward to seeing what other results can be found.
Analyzing the data taught me the most by far. Because I had to work with them every day, I gained valuable experience with and understanding of the graphs and such that I would see in textbooks. This also helped me gain confidence with commonly-used linguistics tools, like sound waves and formants, and how they change depending on what someone says. I also gained some basic knowledge of how to use linguistics applications like Pratt, and to a lesser extent, VoiceSauce. I have no doubt that this knowledge will be valuable in the following years for a Linguistics major.