Speech will be focus of program for new admits

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Incoming freshmen and transfer students next fall will be able to contribute to a sort of Google Maps for speech as part of "Voices of Berkeley" - the theme for next fall's On the Same Page program, which will seek to provide an introduction to the linguistic diversity of UC Berkeley.

Each year, after students submit their statements of intent to register in the College of Letters and Science, they are sent welcome packs which include something from the On the Same Page program, which aims to help students engage in something together with the idea that by the time they come to campus, they will already realize they have something in common.

When the program began in 2006, students were given a book by Stephen Hawking; and last year's program included a DNA testing kit, which proved to be very controversial. In this year's program, announced online Wednesday, students will have the opportunity to submit a short voice sample and have their speech patterns linked to their hometowns on an online map, on which participants will be able to look up what people from different locations sound like.

"We're really excited (about the program), as our students come here with heritage languages and accents, and then they can come here and learn over 60 languages," said Alix Schwartz, the program's coordinator. "(Language) is an aspect of diversity we don't often explore, but it's all around us."

The program will also give students the opportunity to listen to the samples of the people who sound the most like them, according to Schwartz, and students will also be invited to submit another sample before they graduate to see how their college experience influenced their speech patterns.

"It's very cool, very cutting-edge - this is the very first sample of its size and with time dimensions in California," Schwartz said. "It just seems like a mind-blowing topic. If people engage with it, their minds will be expanded."

The program will become part of a larger project conducted by researchers in the linguistics department, who want to create a more accurate database of California speech, according to Keith Johnson, a linguistics professor who is helping to design the speech database. In particular, the researchers want to sample how people pronounce their vowels in American English, as this is the best way to decipher dialect, Johnson said.

"It's a real opportunity to take a snapshot of Californian speech," he said.

The submission of voice samples will be followed up in September by a keynote address by campus School of Information adjunct professor Geoffrey Nunberg, who will be interviewing a panel of UC Berkeley alumni about their multilingual experiences, according to Tim Hampton, professor of French and comparative literature. There will also be a series of freshman seminars in the fall and a video contest on the topic.

Hampton said the program encourages new students to think of the role languages play in their daily lives, including understanding the importance of language in the global economy.

Some incoming students expressed enthusiasm for the program.

"I think that it is fascinating how even babies in various places babble in a way that is unique to their home region - this is one of the first ways that our environment begins to affect us," said incoming freshman from Coto De Caza, Calif., Katie Hilton, in an email. "It draws attention to the little ways that the student body's diverse population has been affected by their respective hometowns, and it would be so cool to see how much we have affected each other at the end of four years."

Tags: LINGUISTICS DEPARTMENT, GOOGLE MAPS, ON THE SAME PAGE, COLLEGE OF LETTERS AND SCIENCE


Contact Rachel Banning-Lover at [email protected]



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