The Digital Corpus of St. John's English
Directed by Sandra Clarke (Linguistics)
The ELRC houses a large volume of recordings and questionnaires in various forms. This year, we have begun digitizing one of these collections, Sandra Clarke's Sociolinguistic Survey of St. John's English, assembled in the early 1980s. This corpus consists of 120 one-to-two-hour interviews with St. John's residents; it is stratified by sex, age and socioeconomic status. In addition, the collection contains some 40 supplementary interviews; two subsets of interviews from designated neighbourhoods (Downtown and Rabbittown); and a small set of interviews with city seniors, for a total of more than 220 city residents.
The corpus was originally recorded on cassette, though between 2004 and 2006 a considerable portion of the main 120-speaker sample was digitized to CD. During 2013, the remaining cassette tapes have been digitized to hard drive by undergraduate Linguistics student assistant Matt Samms. In copying the existing CDs to computer, he also discovered issues with sound quality, and has used sound editing software to acoustically enhance a number of the recordings in so far as is possible.
In addition to audio digitizing, the ELRC has begun a full transcription of the conversational segments of the St. John's interviews; prior to 2013, only a total of ten minutes of the conversation portions had been transcribed, and only for the main 120-speaker sample. This has necessitated the development of a new transcription protocol by the Centre. Transcription is currently in progress, and will continue as funding permits.
Such a large database of urban Newfoundland recordings is of obvious importance to sociolinguistic and other researchers. In the summer of 2013, the ELRC was visited by Dr. Nicola Bessell of the University of Cork, who intends to compare word-list portions of a small subset of the St. John's interviews with a comparable sample from southern Ireland. However, the St. John's corpus offers many other potential applications. In keeping with the university's mandate of public outreach and engagement, the ELRC is interested in producing a publicly-accessible online collection of stories told by members of the sample. Many speakers in the conversational interviews reflect on such topics as earlier days in St. John's, changes they have perceived in the city, and attitudes to local culture and local speech. An online website could provide a type of time capsule of St. John's, in much the same way as has the Newcastle Electronic Corpus of Tyneside English for the Newcastle region of northeastern England.