Listen to a conversation between a student and a professor.
Uh, hi, Lisa, what can I do for you?
Well, I've been thinking about, you know, what you were saying in class last week, about how we shouldn't wait until the last minute to find an idea and get started working on our term paper.
Good, good, and have you come up with anything?
[showing signs of being a rather talkative young woman] Well, yeah, sort of—see, I've never had a linguistics class before, so I was sort of... I mean, I was looking over the course description and a lot of the stuff you described there, I just don't know what it is talking about, you know, or what it means.
But there was one thing that really did jump out at me.
[with exaggerated patience] Yes?
The section on dialects, 'cause ...like, that's the kind of thing that's always sort of intrigued me, you know?
Well, that's certainly an interesting topic, but you may not realize, I mean, the scope...
[interrupting] Well, especially now, 'cause I've got, like one roommate who is from the south and another one from New York, and we all talk like totally different, you know?
Yes, I understand. But...
[interrupting again] But then I was noticing, like, we don't really get into this till the end of the semester, you know. So I...
[sounding just the slightest bit pompous] So, you want some pointers where to go for information on the subject?
Well, you could always start by reading the chapter in the book on sociolinguistics; that will give you a basic understanding of the key issues involved here.
Yeah, that's what I thought.
So I started reading the chapter, you know, about how everyone speaks some dialect of a language.
And I'm wondering like, well, how do we even manage to understand each other at all?
Ah, yes, an interesting question. You see...
[cuts him off]So then I read the part about “dialect accommodation”— you know, the idea that people tend to adapt their speaking to make it closer to the speech of whomever they're talking to, and I'm thinking, yeah, I do that when I talk with my roommates, and without even thinking about it or anything, you know.
[starting to be impressed despite himself]Okay, all right— “dialect accommodation” is a more manageable sort of topic…
So I was thinking like, I wonder just how much other people do the same thing.
I mean, there’re students here from all over the place; does everyone change the way they talk to some degree, depending on who they’re talking to?
You'd be surprised.
So, anyway, my question is, do you think it'd be OK if I did a project like that for my term paper?
You know, find students from different parts of the country, record them talking to each other in different combinations, report on how they accommodate their speech or not, that kind of thing?
[excited now] Tell you what, Lisa, write me up a short proposal for this project, how you're going to carry out the experiment and everything, a design plan—and I think this’ll work out just fine!