PhD – Sociophonetics & YouTube

“Exploring YouTube as a context for sociophonetic variation” (Provisional thesis title).

When I began to think about what to do for my PhD I knew that I wanted to bring together my two loves – linguistics and technology. More specifically, and to also play to my strengths, I thought the time was right to try uniting sociophonetics (the study of the social factors that influence our speech) and human-computer interaction (the study of how the design and use of technology impacts on us). Why? Because speech is becoming evermore present in technology and, from my perspective, both of these fields are beginning to realise that the co-occurrence of these two elements might be an interesting topic to explore. The problem is there’s so much we don’t know and so many questions we could ask!

In the end, I picked speech on YouTube. YouTube is not the only online video sharing or streaming platform but it is certainly the industry leader and one of the longest running. This means a massive amount of speech data is out there waiting to be explored. Yet when I began to search for relevant literature I realised that there is almost no previous work out there. This is kind of good because that makes my work novel and exciting but also I don’t have a blueprint or previous example for how to perform a study. Therefore, this will be my thesis – an initial set of guidelines or recommendations for how to design an investigative method for studies of speech on YouTube. This will be based on several pieces of work where I reconfigure the different elements that make up a traditional sociophonetic method in response to knowledge and theory from the human-computer interaction field. I started my PhD in March 2017 and I am having an amazing time 😀 Every day, even the hard ones, I feel so lucky to be in this position where I can investigate what I want, when I want and how I want, and continually challenge myself to become a better researcher, teacher, colleague and member of a research community. I’m also developing a wonderful network of support across two academic disciplines, three universities and beyond, whose support I am incredibly greatful for.

Presenting a poster about my first study

So far, I have conducted a one study. In this study I wanted to see if we could learn more about theories of speech style (e.g. Audience Design and Speaker Design) by trying to establish if there can be a causal relationship between the feedback a vlogger receives on their videos and a vlogger’s speech over time. For more info, see my ResearchGate profile for a poster and it’s abstract that I presented. I also entered Northumbria’s 3 minute thesis competition and came third!

3 minute thesis slide