Linguistics 001      Fall 2009     Homework 4      Due We 10/14

1. President Obama's intonation

The main point of this exercise is to get you used to using a computer program for acoustic analysis of speech. In order to make the exercise more interesting, you'll try to characterize some properties of President Barack Obama's speaking style.

We often think that well-known public figures speak with a characteristic melody and rhythm. You can try your luck at recognizing some "Political melodies" from last year's U.S. presidential campaign here.

For the purpose of this exercise, we'll focus on Obama's phrasal melodies, working with his most recent weekly address. Choose a convenient folder to work in, and download the audio from this link. (In Firefox on Windows machines, use right-click>>Save link as... With other operating systems or other browsers, use the appropriate corresponding method. If you can't figure it out, ask your TA or your ITA.) The transcript is available here.

Now download one of these two: the free program Wavesurfer, or the free program Praat, which is a bit harder to learn to use, but can do many more things. In your recitation section, you'll learn a bit about how tto use these programs to analyze audio recordings -- and your TAs have created some homework-specific instructions for using Praat for this task.

Based on looking and listening, what are some hypotheses about President Obama's characteristic melody and rhythm? (Of course, in order to evaluate these hypotheses, you'd need to compare a sample of his speeches or interviews with a comparable sample from other politicians.)

For example, you might form the impression that that the highest pitch in each of his phrases tends to occur on one of the first few syllables, and to be quite a bit higher than its peers within the same phrase. Here's his first sentence, with the peak pitch in Hz (cycles per second) in square brackets following each word containing a significant local maximum in pitch:

When I [215] took office eight months [102] ago,
our [161] nation was in the midst [131] of an economic [151] crisis [115]
unlike [142] any [144] we’d seen [123] in generations [103].

You could compare the start of one of George W. Bush's last radio addresses (from 10/08/2008, audio here):

Our nation [172] is dealing [144] with a serious [165] financial [116] crisis.
Over the past month [133], Americans [129] have witnessed fast-moving [135] events [116]
involving complicated [127] financial [106] issues.

You can pursue this hypothesis, or some other impression of your own. Your goal is not to marshal all the data needed to prove (or disprove) your hypothesis, but to learn how to collect acoustic measurements that are the objective and quantitative counterpart of your subjective impressions.

If you continue with the hypothesis above, you should measure the peak pitch of accented syllables in the next few sentences of each of the two speeches linked above, and then offer some suggestions about how to use such data in evaluating a quantitative form of the hypothesis that president Obama's speaking style involves a tendency towards especially high pitches early in his phrases, and especially lowered pitches later. (Note that a "downstepping" effect is commonly seen in most varieties of American English, so the hypothesis must be that the president does this to an unusual degree).

I this hypothesis were true, what might be its rhetorical effect?

2. Telugu morphology
(based on an exercise in Farmer & Demers' A Linguistics Workbook):

The table below gives a set of 22 words in Telugu, each of which is translated by an English sentence. (This is an uncharacteristically simple sample of Telugu verb morphology.)

English translation
1 ceppɛɛnu "I told"
2 ceppincunu "I cause (someone) to tell"
3 cuustaam "we will see"
4 ceppɛɛm "we told"
5 ceppanu "I will not tell"
6 navvincum "We cause (someone) to laugh"
7 cuustunnaaḍu    "He is seeing"
8 ceppɛɛyi "They told"
9 koḍataanu "I will beat"
10 paaḍataanu "I will sing"
11 ceppɛɛru "You (pl.) told"
12 ceppavu "You (sg.) will not tell"
13 ceppɛɛvu "You (sg.) told"
14 ceppam "We will not tell"
15 ceppɛɛḍu "He told"
16 cuusɛɛḍu "He saw"
17 cepparu "You (pl.) will not tell"
18 koḍatunnaayi "They are beating"
19 ceestunnaanu "I am doing"
20 aḍugutaam "We will ask"
21 ceesɛɛnu "I did"
22 aḍugutaaḍu "He will ask"

A. List the Telugu morphemes corresponding to these English words:

  Telugu morpheme English gloss
1.a          "tell"
1.b   "sing"
1.c   "see"
1.d   "laugh"
1.e   "ask"
1.f   "beat"
1.g   "do"
Person marking of subjects:
2.a   "I"
2.b   "you (sg.)"
2.c   "he"
2.d   "we"
2.e   "you (pl.)"
2.f   "they"
3.a   past tense
3.b   present tense
(-ing form in English gloss)
3.c   future tense
3.d   negative future tense
3.e   causative

B. List the order in which the morphemes occur in the Telugu words. Use terms such as verb, tense, and subject.

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