June 17, 2008

The pitch of the "dic."

I've been teaching and writing about jurisdiction for almost a quarter century, but I've never thought about how to pitch the various syllables of the word. Today, I learn that it is a profound subject for academic inquiry!
We applied automated measurement techniques to recordings of 78 hours of oral arguments from the 2001 term of the U.S. Supreme court, in order to look at the (average) effects on pitch and time of primary word stress (e.g. the third syllable in jurisdiction), secondary stress (e.g. the first syllable in jurisdiction), and lack of stress (e.g. the second and fourth syllables in jurisdiction)....

We found that vowels with main word stress (1-stress for short) were distinguished by pitch from vowels with secondary stress (2-stress) , and also from unstressed vowels (0-stress). As the plot on the right shows, the 2-stress and 0-stress vowels were remarkably similar in their normalized pitch contours, while the 1-stress vowels were quite different.

The vertical axis is in semitones, relative to a Justice-dependent reference, defined as the 10th percentile of all F0 values for that Justice.....
Read the whole thing!


Unknown said...

Ah, phoneticians. Whatever would we do without them?

Miss Elsie Mae Krumholtz said...

I've been listening your voice in some of the videos.

Yes, your phrasing and intonation is wildly off-key.

I'm sure a few voice lessons and voice modulation will tame that shrill and piercing sound that emanates from, I can't even imagine where........

PWS said...

Who can forget Demi Moore's pronunciation in "A Few Good Men"?

William said...

It would be hard to imagine a phrase less likely to induce a ludic trance than "The vertical axis is in semi-tones, relative to a justice dependent reference..." I admire the mulltplicity of your interests but every virtue if pursued too far becomes a form of depravity.

Kirby Olson said...

In all of your writing about law and teaching it, do you ever touch upon Nix V. Hedden (1893). I came across it the other day while trying again to determine whether or not a tomato is a vegetable.

Apparently a justice in 1893 said that the tomato is a vegetable because we eat it with dinner rather than after dinner as a dessert. Therefore, since it is a vegetable in common use, it is a vegetable, even though in botanical terms, it is a fruit, because it contains its own seeds.

The same judge apparently took it upon himself to define beans, cucumbers, and a few other garden edibles, throwing them willy nilly into one category or another.

There was a reason for this: fruits were not taxed, and Nix was a produce importer (living in New Jersey). He paid the import tax but under protest. The judge redefined the tomato as a vegetable and forced Nix to continue to pay.

Do you think that this was a kind of judicial activism, since the definition of fruit vs. vegetable belongs properly within the jurisdiction of Botany, rather than the court of New Jersey?

Is there another legal term for this kind of decision in which a common term is overridden by a judge, and which sets up a precedent within the botanical and gardening world, into which New Jersey judges have no right to preside?

Chip Ahoy said...

And to think, this concludes someone's masters thesis and BANG!, day it iz, someone got themselves a MS.

rhhardin said...

Phoneticians gave us world trade.

JR said...


Reminded me of one of the best-spun “dic” intonations. At least my favorite:

“Don't give me that juris-my-diction crap.”

From, “The Martrix.” The police lieutenant to Agent Smith after the lieutenant sent “two units” to handle “one little girl.”

Smith says back: “No, Lieutenant, your men are already dead.”

Then a cut-away. To Trinity. Whacking the “dics” of juris-diction. Great scene.

That’s real “juris-my-diction.”

Every time I hear that well-intoned phrase in the movie, I think of Scalia. His character: not his jurisprudence. Maybe both: since I still don’t forgive him for “Smith v. Employment Services.” Anyway, I see Scalia. Plus his Italian gesture. Combined with these words, just for fun, saying to some oralist before the bench, ““Don't give me that juris-my-diction crap.”

With one of his law clerks dressed as Trinity in the background.

I don’t know. I just think Scalia could handle it.



Unknown said...

I doubt anyone passed this off as a thesis. The correlation between tonal and stress features has been well documented for at least 150 years. It's one of those things you cover in intro to linguistics classes, if you catch my drift.

I am a syntactician, not a phonetician. Needless to say, some of my best friends are phoneticians, but of the acoustic variety, not the funny-hatted sort that gave us world trade.

Chip Ahoy said...

This post has caused me to think about how to pitch the various syllables of the word "dictator," and then to Photoshop (vb.™) the result of my research.