Perceiving Dene "click" Sounds

Regions: Qikiqtaaluk Region

Tags: social sciences, dene culture, aboriginal language, linguistics

Principal Investigator: Bezha, Walter (1)
Licence Number: 16727
Organization: University of Toronto
Licensed Year(s): 2020
Issued: Jun 23, 2020
Project Team: Maida Percival

Objective(s): To focus on the variation in how people pronounce speech sound affects and how people hear them, and to have a set of phonetic properties that people listen for when they hear “click” sounds.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.4700.

The outcome of this research can be used in language teaching to help learners open their ears to sounds that make Dene language different from English. The research team want to find ways to help Dene as a second language learners to hear variation in pronunciation and sounds more fluent when they speak. The research will also lead to new linguistic knowledge about how people hear speech and whether “click” sounds are the same in all languages. The research will focus on variation of how people pronounce speech sound affects and how people hear them, and more specifically it will explore how people hear the differences between Dene “click” sounds like t’ in words such as set’á ‘my feather’ as opposed to similar sounds like d in words such as sedá ‘my eye’. The desired outcome is to have a set of phonetic properties that people listen for when they hear “click” sounds.

The research team would hold a focus group session with a small group of speakers and community language teachers/specialists to discuss project design and ensure maximum community benefits.

A training session with the community researcher(s) will be undertaken, including understanding informed consent, interview techniques, and collaborative finalization of the interview guide based on focus group/community researcher input.

The community researcher would arrange to meet with Dene-speaking community members interested in participating at a quiet location in Déli?ne. Then, the team would guide the participant through three tasks. The first task is an interview about their language background and some basic demographic information, such as where they were born, what language(s) they speak, what language(s) their parents spoke, and how much they use the different language(s) on a daily basis. Next is going through a list of words with the participant and making an audio recording of how they pronounce the words. Finally, the participant would complete a listening task. They would listen to a series of slightly different pronunciations of the same words on a computer and give judgements about what they hear. Some of these words would be Dene words and some would be words from other language groups involved in the study to be used for comparing across languages. For example, participants may hear a series of recordings of the words set’á ‘my feather’ and sedá ‘my eye’, and after each recording plays, they would see the two different words displayed in boxes on the screen and have the option to click on one or the other, depending on what they thought they heard. Some versions of the words they would hear would be modified using a special computer program called Praat so that they would sound like something a second-language learning might say. These three tasks are expected to take between 1-2 hours.

The research team would compare the pronunciation of words recorded by the participants during the word list task in Praat, which can be used to get certain phonetic properties of sounds. The team would also compare participant’s judgements on the listening tasks and use statistical analysis to determine how variations in the phonetic properties of sounds affect what people hear. A focus group and open house will be held to demonstrate how the computer analysis works, review the analysis, and plan next steps for applying results in language teaching.

So far, the team have written a letter to the Déli?ne Got'i?ne Government outlining the proposed research project and inviting input from the community. The team will incorporate their input into the project at the planning stage so that the research can be tailored to their interests as well. Because the research takes place in the community with community members, the team will be able to communicate about the project in person as the research is taking place, including during two focus group sessions and an open house. A plain language report detailing the project and its findings and outputs will be made available after results have been analyzed.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from June 24, 2020 to December 31, 2020.