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The southern drawl gets deconstructed

Understanding vowel sound diversity could improve Siri

3:14pm, June 30, 2017
pecan pie

SWEET AS PAH  Delving into the vowel pronunciations of Southerners, who, for example, turn pie into “pah,” reveals surprising linguistic complexity that could help make better speech recognition software.

BOSTON — Some aspects of speech are as Southern as pecan pie. Consider the vowel shift that makes the word pie sound more like “pah.” While that pronunciation is found from Florida to Texas, a new study reveals a surprising diversity in Southern vowel pronunciation that’s linked to a speaker’s age, social class, gender, race and geography.

The research, presented June 29 at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, could help software developers create better speech recognition tools for smartphones and other devices.

To understand the medley of southern vowel sounds, linguist Margaret Renwick of the University of Georgia in Athens dove into the Digital Archive of Southern Speech. The archive comprises almost 400 hours of interviews with 64 native Southerners representing a mix of ethnicities

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