Mind, Technology, and Society Talk Series

Alan Yu
Professor, University of Chicago
Time/Date: 3-4:30 p.m. Monday, September 14, 2015

Chancellor’s Conference Room, KL 232

The United States Supreme Court Oral Arguments as a Sociophonetic Corpus


The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has been recording the oral arguments since the installation of a recording system in 1955. The recordings and the accompanying transcripts have been archived and made available to the public recently by the OYEZ project (http://www.oyez.org). In this presentation, I introduce the SCOTUS Project, a joint venture between the Chicago Phonology Lab and the Center for Law and Economics at ETH Zurich, which aims to analyze the speech patterns of the SCOTUS justices and the lawyers before the court using the audio and transcripts from the OYEZ corpus. To illustrate the versatility of this corpus, I present findings of two recent sociophonetic studies focusing on (1) the vowel characteristics of the supreme court justices and (2) the general vocal characteristics of the lawyers arguing in front of the SCOTUS.

Suggested reading:

Thomas Purnell, William Idsardi and John Baugh. 1999. “Perceptual and Phonetic Experiments on American English Dialect Identification. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18 (10): 10-30.
Jane Stuart-Smith, Tamara Rathcke, M. Sonderegger and Rachel Macdonald. (2015) A real-time study of plosives in Glaswegian using an automatic measurement algorithm: change or age-grading? To appear in E.N. Torgersen (Ed.), Language Variation — European Perspectives V. Benjamins.

Alan C. L. Yu is Professor of Linguistics and the College and the University of Chicago. He directs the Phonology Laboratory and the Washo Documentation Project. His research focuses on phonological theory, phonetics, language typology, and language variation and change. He is the author ofA Natural History of Infixation (2007, Oxford University Press), editor of Origins of Sound Change: Approaches to Phonologization (2013, Oxford University Press), and co-editor of the Blackwell Handbook of Phonological Theory 2nd Edition (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). His website is https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/aclyu/.