Wildcat Voices Project Aims to Capture Linguistic Diversity on Campus

By Lindsey Piercy

The University of Kentucky strives to be a place where people of all backgrounds are welcome. Students, faculty and staff come from different cities, states and countries — creating a truly diverse campus.

Linguistics, the study of language, is one way to measure diversity. It doesn't just have to be a foreign language, there's also diversity within the English language. For example, when referring to soft drinks, do you call them "coke" or "pop"? The answer speaks volumes about where you're from.

A fascinating project, initiated by Jennifer Cramer and Kevin McGowan, faculty members of the Department of Linguistics in the College of Arts & Sciences, aims to capture the various voices of UK. The venture, dubbed Wildcat Voices, started nearly two years ago and continues to gain interest.

"Linguists care a lot about what the sound of our voices says about where we’re from and how we interact with each other," McGowan said. "Wildcat Voices is our attempt to understand and showcase the community of speakers at UK."

So, how exactly do you capture linguistic diversity? First, the entire UK family has to lend their voices. That includes, students, faculty and staff. The more, the merrier! It's an ambitious goal, but Cramer and McGowan have been working to get the word out. So far, 500 people have contributed.

Taking part is simple. You can visit the Wildcat Voices website on any modern computer or cell phone. Login using your linkblue ID and password. From there, simply follow the prompts.

You will be asked to record a series of sentences. Ideally, this would be done in a fairly quiet space. The sentences are designed to draw out, as naturally as possible, the important regional differences among English accents.

"Because Kentucky is located at a very interesting crossroads in the dialect landscape of the United States, and because at UK, we have students who come from across the globe, this kind of project is perfect for understanding the many different ways that people talk in the Commonwealth," Cramer said.

Plans are in the works to create a more in-depth website. Once enough data is collected, it will feature an interactive map that allows people to click on a location and hear the UK voices associated with that location.

"We want visitors to be able to visualize and hear for themselves how diverse UK is," McGowan continued. "The recordings will also be used in some of our introductory linguistics courses, to give students hands-on experience analyzing real-world data."

By encouraging people to talk about their linguistic backgrounds, the project will showcase the immense amount of variability that can be found in language, even on UK's campus.

"The more people who participate, the more variation that’s likely to show up," Cramer said. "What comes from this project will be a wonderful tribute to the culture and community of UK."

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue


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