Phonetics laboratory offers essential tools to researchers of phonetics, phonology
Ljubljana, 19 August - The Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU) has recently got a phonetics laboratory, an "essential tool of phonetics and phonology", said the head of the Fran Ramovš Institute of the Slovenian Language, Kozma Ahačič. The two studies are an important part of the research of any language, as they offer insights into spoken language and issues related to it.
The phonetics laboratory, which was designed at the institute, is equipped with the most cutting-edge devices available on the market. It was set up in cooperation with an expert for recording film speech, Grega Švabič, and Vid Ahačič, a sound engineer in charge of sound production of film concerts and some of the best European orchestras.
The phonetics laboratory is located in the Black Room, where Fran Ramovš, the first head of the Institute of the Slovenian Language, used to work, and it also still has his chair.
Researchers have been craving a phonetics laboratory for a long time
According to Kozma Ahačič, the desire for a phonetics laboratory had been there for a very long time and researchers knew exactly what they need. Although they realised the path to this goal would be difficult, "our institute's plans made years ago included a room for this purpose and the desire for more modern equipment".
Even before the financial aspects were covered, the researchers found the devices that would best fit the phonetics laboratory they had in mind. "This turned out to be a smart move, because we suddenly 'won the lottery'. We got the chance to finance projects and the funds for purchasing the essential parts of the phonetics laboratory were there," Ahačič told the STA.
"Our main wish was very simple: We wanted to capture spoken language in a way that it would be altered as little as possible - not necessarily recorded in a way to make the recording sound nice but so that the speech is altered as little as possible, genuine and available in digital form."
The head of the lexicological section at the institute, Janoš Ježovnik, noted that high-quality recordings were essential for experimental phonetic measurements. "If we have a poor quality recording, the measurements are questionable too. The phonetics laboratory and all the equipment are primarily an opportunity to obtain good recordings that can be the basis for more reliable and comparable measurements," he stressed.
Three basic purposes
The phonetics laboratory will have three main purposes, according to Ahačič: to archive existing recordings in digital form, make "the best possible and the best sounding recordings possible" to be published at Fran's web portal, and to make and analyse recordings.
The head of the laboratory, Tanja Mirtič, said the work that could now be conducted at the phonolab was very important for modern linguistic manuals. Based on this, the standard spoken language can be determined and the pronunciation of certain words written down.
Any kind of studio would suffice for the first two tasks, but the third and most "phonological" of the three tasks is more of a challenge. Ahačič explained that in order to make an analysis, the sound needs to be as faithful as possible in a completely controllable environment. "We will be using the same devices and create the same conditions to record words, thus making objectively comparable recordings."
The comparability of the recordings is not as self-evident as it may seem, because the distance from the microphone alone can affect the recording. Replacing the microphone, although with one of the same type, can have an even greater influence. "That's why we have two microphones with consecutive serial numbers," Ahačič said.
The laboratory equipment also bring changes to fieldwork
As the lab in the Black Room was being equipped, the institute also purchased equipment for fieldwork, as research involving speakers of different dialects in Slovenia entails fieldwork.
The head of the dialectological section, Karmen Kenda Jež, who works with phonetics as well as dialect lexicography and language geography, told the STA that the possibility of obtaining quality recordings in all fields of her work opened new possibilities.
Because of the diversity of the Slovenian dialects and the many different types of speaking, a phonetic transcription for the entire Slovenian territory has not been made yet. "With the measurements that are now possible with the new devices, standardisation will be possible," she said.
The new equipment for fieldwork enables more faithful recordings of dialect words. "In a way we have two kinds of recordings - field recordings that are usually of poorer quality, and studio recordings, which are already a bit further away from everyday speech. They are a kind of a performance in dialect, where the dialect is slightly different from its initial form. In the field, however, we can get the spontaneity that comes from the speaker's home environment and the quality that is comparable to the one recorded in a studio."
Phonetics and phonology have a long history in Slovenia
According to Ahačič, phonetics and phonology have quite a long history in Slovenia among researchers of Slovenian, as "partly phonetic issues" were discussed as early as in the 16th century.
The situation is, however, somewhat different with experimental phonetics, sound recording and analysing, and with measuring sound characteristics, as this started in the mid-20th century. Very high-profile research "in experimental phonetics and modern standard language started with Jože Toprišič", Ahačič said in reference to Slovenia's most influential linguist of the 20th century.
"In fact that was the heyday of experimental phonology and phonetics in Slovenia. But then devices in the world developed further - we had good software and thus very good opportunities for analysis but at the same time our situation was relatively uncertain and the incoming data was not comparable, so our researches relied on work done abroad, data processed by Slovenian researchers abroad."