While one of our general aims is to sample a wide variety of contemporary spoken English, individual variation is also at the heart of the PAC project. The protocol provides for the recording of various styles for each speaker:
- reading of two wordlists
- reading of a written passage (hereafter called text)
- formal interview between the fieldworker and the informant
- informal conversation
The experience from similar projects is that this approach generally gives rise to a range of registers for each informant. In the ideal case, the recordings show a scale of formality familiar from work in sociolinguistics but the interpretation of the data needs a great deal of care. In particular, the use of the terms ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ should not be taken at face value. When referring to formal and informal conversations we should not make strong assumptions as to the ‘product’ i.e. the actual style of speech recorded, but rather see these terms as referring to the fundamentally different settings of the two conversational contexts.
For samples of the four speech styles, click the link 'Samples' on the left.
Two wordlists are to be recorded for each speaker. They include 192 words altogether, which is rather long but allows for the examination of a wide sample of segmental phenomena. These lists should not be modified since it is imperative to maintain comparability in the project but you can add further items depending on your field of interest. Do bear in mind, however, that additional lists may tax the reader’s patience and goodwill.
For the recording you should have a copy of the two lists in a reader-friendly font style and size, and place all documents to be read under a plastic cover in order to reduce background noise. It is essential to point out that the number preceding each of the words also has to be read. In our experience, informants seem to prefer to read through the lists without any pauses, but you can have a short break between the two lists. The reading over, the informants often want to make comments on our selection of words. This should be encouraged and recorded as it is a useful source of information on speakers’ attitudes and appreciation of features of their phonological systems.
During the recording of the lists, always have your own copy in order to follow the reader and note any omission, misreading, misinterpretation etc. At the end of the list ask the speaker to read any words which have been missed out or misinterpreted. The same applies to unexpected noises or other interruptions in the course of the reading.
The text to be recorded, entitled Christmas interview of a television evangelist, is a two-page passage originally based on a newspaper article but substantially modified to hide its source and include a number of phonological phenomena worth investigating.
Before recording, ask informants to take a few minutes to read the text to themselves. This gives them a chance to run through the text and know what it is about, and thus be more at ease and perform better for the recording. Never put this task to someone without checking that they will be reasonably comfortable with reading aloud. The speaker’s copy of the text should be printed in a reader-friendly layout with clearly spaced lines and (at least) 14-sized fonts. Also make sure that lines do not break at crucial points (e.g. where linking/intrusive r’s may be possible) and that pages end at appropriate points (e.g. end of a sentence or a paragraph).
The formal interview involves the fieldworker and the informant. It has two main objectives: on the one hand, it provides invaluable background information on the speakers, and, on the other hand, it represents one of the four speech styles on the stylistic spectrum aimed to be captured by the PAC methodology, i.e. a more formal register than that used in familiar conversation between friends.
After the interview the fieldworker fills in a questionnaire for each informant (cf. Information sheet) based on the recorded dialogue. The PAC protocol suggests some topics that the interviewer might want to develop in the conversation, along with useful hints on some of the techniques to lead such a dialogue successfully, avoiding for example one-word responses from the interview.
The informal conversation is recorded either with two or more informants without the investigator being present, or with one or more informants and a fieldworker. There are no topics or directions imposed on the conversation.
It is best to work in teams of two: one fieldworker who knows the informants well and the other who is a stranger to the target group. This enables the fieldworkers to create two distinct styles in the interviews: a formal dialogue between two persons meeting for the first time, as opposed to the informal conversation between friends.
It is worth noting that taking an active part and participating in the interviews proper facilitates the following phase of the fieldwork, i.e. the transcriptions and analyses. Cooperating with another person is all the more useful as it makes mutual help possible when it comes to listening and transcribing.
Experience has shown that recordings with more than three speakers are rather difficult to exploit. Informal conversations, therefore, should be recorded with two or a maximum of three informants at the same time.
All in all, about 45 minutes of spontaneous speech should be recorded for each informant (approximately 20 minutes of formal and 20 to 30 minutes of informal conversation) – a sufficient basis for having five-minute sequences transcribed orthographically for each stylistic context for each speaker, required for the project at this stage.