Spencer Brooks ’21

Ohio State University, Department of Linguistics, Columbus, OH

This summer, I worked as a research assistant for Dr. Gabriella Modan at the Ohio State University Department of Linguistics. Broadly, Dr. Modan hopes to learn how people understand the word “urban.” The work I did this summer specifically focused on how east coast city-dwellers interpret the word “urban” in business names (e.g. Urban Living).

In the first few weeks of my internship, I wrote a series of essays responding to and analyzing book chapters and articles in sociolinguistics and other disciplines that use discourse analysis. I also completed a variety of training activities, including practice transcription and sample 
analysis of my own transcription. These activities developed my understanding of discourse analysis methods and gave me invaluable theoretical context and practical experience. These exercises also developed my ear for the features of speech that I notated in my transcriptions, including intonation, pauses, stress, among others. The training period provided the foundation I needed to 
effectively complete the rest of my work for the summer. The primary work that I completed this summer was 
transcribing interviews conducted in the Washington, DC, area. I converted the audio recordings of the interviews into a written format that is easier to use for analysis. This work involved careful, repeated listening to audio 
segments, transcribing words and other features of speech, and formatting the transcripts to be ready for analysis.

My transcription work further developed my ear and my analysis skills. The work also gave me an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between methodology and analysis: I realized how my choices in transcribing could affect analysis (e.g. emphasizing certain features in a transcript might make an analyst more likely to pay attention to them or ascribe the importance later). My development of skills like these this past summer will be invaluable as I continue my studies at Williams and explore the potential for graduate study and potential careers. Proximally, I hope to apply my sociolinguistics analysis skills to interrogate the importance of language in game-playing in an independent study on games that I am enrolled in this fall. More distally, this experience has told me that sociolinguistics is an area which I should seriously consider for graduate study and a potential career, and has given me some of the skills I need to be prepared for graduate study in that field.

This fall, I’ve been invited to continue working as a research assistant for Dr. Modan. Along with transcribing interviews, I will be coding and sorting photographs of Covid-19 “wear a mask” signs, which are part of a project studying politeness. I will also be designing methodology for and conducting interviews of Midwest city-dwellers and their views on the word “urban” as a contrast to the views of east-coasters already interviewed. This will be a fantastic opportunity for continuing my exploration of sociolinguistics as a potential field for graduate study and career path.

I wish to extend my sincerest gratitude to the Class of 1966, whose internship support made it possible for me to participate in this valuable opportunity even amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.