Researchers from Stanford University’s Department of Linguistics will visit Amador County in September to conduct interviews with residents of the area. The group of around 15 researchers consists of both faculty and graduate students, all of whom are part of a multi-year research endeavor called Voices of California, which documents language and life across the state. During their stay, the researchers will conduct one-on-one interviews with over 100 natives of the area.
Now in its 10th year, the Voices of California project studies regional differences in English as it’s spoken across California. The project focuses on the language and culture of Californians in non-urban areas of the state, because most dialectology studies in the United States have been based in big, coastal cities. In California, linguists have studied English in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but not the Central Valley, coastal towns or smaller communities. The Voices of California project aims to fill that knowledge gap by visiting those important but understudied parts of the state. Thus far researchers visited sites in Merced county in 2010, Shasta county in 2011, Kern county in 2012, Sacramento county in 2014, Salinas county in 2016, Humboldt County in 2017, and San Bernardino County in 2018.
Penny Eckert, a professor of Linguistics and Anthropology, initiated the project along with two fellow faculty and several graduate students in linguistics.
“We wanted to make sure California was represented as it is, rather than just the California you see on TV,” Eckert said. “There’s cultural and linguistic diversity across the state that doesn’t fit neatly into those California stereotypes we see over and over again in popular media.”
The great environmental diversity of California results in vastly different ways of life across the state. And the diversity of the state’s population brings a variety of linguistic influences to the dialects of California. The Stanford research team will be conducting interviews with lifelong residents of Amador County who are members of all ethnic communities that have been in the area for several generations.
“We’re interested in what it means to be and sound like a Californian”, says graduate student Lewis Esposito. “We’ve uncovered a range of perspectives in the different places we’ve visited, and the interviews we conduct with residents offer a window into the linguistic and social diversity of the state. This year, we’re extremely excited to be expanding our project to Amador County!”
In the interviews, which are recorded and last upwards of 45 minutes, interviewees are asked to share their oral histories and their perspectives on the community, the region, and the rest of the state. Interviewees also read a standard list of words so that pronunciations of the same set of words have been recorded for all participants.
The group will visit Amador County from September 9 to September 18. Native residents of the area who are interested in participating in an interview should visit the project website – web.stanford.edu/dept/linguistics/VoCal/participate, call 256-9700, or email VOCAmador@gmail.com.