Linguistics Transcription
by
Willem de Reuse
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0174

Introduction

For the layman, transcription connotes medical transcription, court transcription, musical transcription, or even gene transcription in biology. This bibliography concentrates on linguistic transcription. Linguistic transcription can be classified according to source: for example, transcription of the voice of a speaker in the field, or transcription from a previously recorded corpus. Linguistic transcription can also be classified according to purpose of transcription: phonetic, phonological, orthographic, discourse analytic, or conversation analytic. Transcription should not be confused with transliteration, which is the mechanical transfer from one system of symbols to another. Transcription, as shown in Elinor Ochs’s article “Transcription as Theory” (Ochs 1979, cited under Discourse Transcription), is always a theory, and there is nothing mechanical to it. The transcriber makes subjective decisions (possibly ideologically or politically motivated) about what to transcribe and what not to transcribe. Furthermore, the sound signal is not made of discrete units, and therefore any segmentation of what is heard into discrete symbols is, in fact, a theoretically motivated decision. This bibliography will not discuss issues of transcription included in other Oxford Bibliographies articles: these are IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet); Phonetics, since textbooks of phonetics always teach phonetic transcription; Phonology, since textbooks of phonology always teach phonological transcription; Fieldwork, since books on fieldwork methods generally contain a section on transcription in fieldwork; and Endangered Languages and Language Revitalization, since books on these topics usually contain a section on orthography development. However, an attempt has been made to strike a balance of contributions by the various stakeholders in transcription issues, including phoneticians and phonologists, documentary fieldworkers, folklorists, dialectologists and sociolinguists, discourse and conversation analysts, ethnographers, psycholinguists, speech pathologists, and specialists with forensic (such as legal and educational) interests.

Introductory Surveys and Bibliographies

A basic division between transcribers is between those interested in transcription at the phonetic or phonological level, surveyed in Kemp 2006, Wells 2006, and MacMahon 1996, and those interested in transcription of discourse, with less attention to phonetic detail and more attention to the visual layout of transcripts, surveyed in Bucholtz 2007, Edwards 2001, and Hammersley 2010.

  • Bucholtz, Mary. 2007. Variation in transcription. Discourse Studies 9:784–808.

    DOI: 10.1177/1461445607082580Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A guide to main current issues in the study of discourse transcription, with useful conventions and a bibliography. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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    • Edwards, Jane. 2001. The transcription of discourse. In Handbook of discourse analysis. Edited by Deborah Tannen, Deborah Schiffrin, and Heidi E. Hamilton, 321–348. Oxford: Blackwell.

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      Focuses on general principles of discourse transcription, such as encoding processes, category design, computational tractability, and visual display; contrasts methods and assumptions, such as format-based versus content-based decisions. Also includes discussions of practicalities, such as software tools, and of the history of discourse transcription. Useful bibliography.

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      • Hammersley, Martyn. 2010. A selective and partially annotated bibliography on transcription in social research. Unpublished.

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        A recent fifteen-page bibliography, useful for references to discourse transcription.

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        • Kemp, J. Alan. 2006. Phonetic transcription: History. In The encyclopedia of language & linguistics. 2d ed. Vol. 9. Edited by Keith Brown, 396–410. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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          Survey and taxonomy of the different types of phonetic transcription: impressionistic versus systematic, and alphabetic versus analphabetic. A detailed history of phonetic transcription, including developments before and after the IPA.

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          • MacMahon, Michael K. C. 1996. Phonetic notation. In The world’s writing systems. Edited by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, 821–846. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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            Introductory, particularly useful for the many illustrative tables of non-IPA and non-Americanist transcription systems. Supplements the taxonomies in Kemp 2006.

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            • Wells, J. C. 2006. Phonetic transcription and analysis. In The encyclopedia of language & linguistics. 2d ed. Vol. 9. Edited by Keith Brown, 386–396. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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              This survey, overlapping somewhat with Kemp 2006 in scope, is useful because of its exemplification of analytical problems in the transcription of vowels and diphthongs of English (making for interesting comparison with Gleason 1961, cited under Phonetic and Phonological Systems), and for exemplification of phonetic alphabets used in language teaching materials.

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              Transcription Systems

              This section first treats phonetic, phonological, and orthographic transcription systems, then the various systems used in discourse transcription, and finally Conversational Analysis (henceforth CA). For discussion of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), refer to the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on this topic (IPA).

              Phonetic and Phonological Systems

              This article focuses on the Americanist systems, which have been in competition for a long time, particularly in North America, with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The earliest Americanist phonetic systems, established before the advent of phonemics or phonology, are described in Powell 1880 and American Anthropological Association 1916. They are not only of historical interest, as they need to be understood by the philologist studying early documents. Pike 1943 and Gleason 1961 are still valuable introductions to later Americanist systems. The most recent surveys are in Goddard 1996 and Mithun 1999, evidence that Americanist systems are alive and well. Neely and Palmer 2009 is an illustration of Americanist systems used to write a Native American language. Pullum and Ladusaw 1986 is an indispensable guide, now somewhat outdated regarding the IPA (which was revised later) but full of valuable information regarding other phonetic systems.

              • American Anthropological Association. 1916. Phonetic transcription of Indian languages: Report of committee of American Anthropological Association. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 66.6. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

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                The committee consisted of Franz Boas and three of his students: Pliny E. Goddard, Edward Sapir, and Alfred L. Kroeber. This system is not used nowadays, but any Americanist working on archival materials on Native American languages needs to be familiar with it.

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                • Gleason, Henry A., Jr. 1961. An introduction to descriptive linguistics. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

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                  An American descriptivist textbook. Chapter 19 (pp. 312–328) contains a helpful account of Americanist transcription systems in use at the time for transcribing English.

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                  • Goddard, Ives. 1996. Introduction. In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 17, Languages. Edited by Ives Goddard, 1–16. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

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                    The Technical Alphabet (p. viii) is a modern version of the Americanist system.

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                    • Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The languages of Native North America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                      Like Goddard 1996, this reference work uses a modern version of the Americanist system, and it also contains a chart of various Americanist systems, with comparison to IPA (pp. xiii–xv).

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                      • Neely, Amber A., and Gus Palmer Jr. 2009. Which way is the Kiowa way? Orthography choices, ideologies, and language renewal. In Native American language ideologies: Beliefs, practices, and struggles in Indian country. Edited by Paul V. Kroskrity and Margaret C. Field, 270–297. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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                        Ideological issues surrounding the different transcription and orthographic systems in use for Kiowa, a Native American language of Oklahoma, mostly based on Americanist systems.

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                        • Pike, Kenneth L. 1943. Phonetics: A critical analysis of phonetic theory and a technique for the practical description of sounds. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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                          A classic describing the Americanist system used by Pike and his students and many of the early fieldworkers of the Summer Institute of linguistics.

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                          • Powell, John W. 1880. Introduction to the study of Indian languages, with words, phrases, and sentences to be collected. 2d ed. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

                            DOI: 10.5962/bhl.title.41407Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            The system used by Smithsonian fieldworkers before the American Anthropological Society 1916 system came into vogue.

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                            • Pullum, Geoffrey K., and William A. Ladusaw. 1986. Phonetic symbol guide. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                              The definitive guide to phonetic symbols, with a description of their names and indicating whether they are more typical of IPA and/or more typical of the American tradition.

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                              English Orthography-Based Phonetic Systems

                              In writings on English dialect folklore, and to a lesser extent in dialectology and sociolinguistics, there has been a tendency to spell English with systems not too far removed from English orthography. Dennis Preston has been a vocal critic of the dangers of this approach, for example in Preston 1982, Preston 1983, and Preston 2000, while Elizabeth Fine was a defender of it, as in Fine 1983. Related issues on the orthographic representation of dialects are in Jaffe 2000 and Macaulay 1991.

                              • Fine, Elizabeth. 1983. In defense of literary dialect: A response to Dennis R. Preston. Journal of American Folklore 96:323–330.

                                DOI: 10.2307/540948Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Relatively harsh criticism of Preston 1982, pointing out inconsistencies of what counts as respellings and misuse of statistics. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                • Jaffe, Alexandra, ed. 2000. Special issue: Non-standard orthography. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4.4.

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                                  Articles addressing key issues of orthographic representation of dialects in a sociolinguistic framework, including earlier African-American English. Articles available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                  • Macaulay, Ronald K. S. 1991. Coz it izny spelt when they say it: Displaying dialect in writing. American Speech 66.3: 280–291.

                                    DOI: 10.2307/455800Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    Emphasis on the usages of English orthographical conventions when spelling Scottish varieties. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                    • Preston, Dennis R. 1982. “Ritin” fowklower daun ’rong: Folklorists’ failures in phonology. Journal of American Folklore 95:304–326.

                                      DOI: 10.2307/539912Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Classic article criticizing the use of eye-dialect and other unwarranted types of respellings by dialect writers, and pointing out the cultural and racial biases thereby displayed. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                      • Preston, Dennis R. 1983. Mowr bayud spellin’: A reply to Fine. Journal of American Folklore 96:330–339.

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                                        A cogent response to points of criticism in Fine 1983. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                        • Preston, Dennis R. 2000. Mowr and mowr bayud spellin’: Confessions of a sociolinguist. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4.4: 614–621.

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                                          The additional point is made that variation in spelling itself can be a reflection of social practices in speech communities. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                          Discourse Transcription Systems

                                          This subsection surveys discourse transcription and coding systems and the guides written about them. Guides that cover both discourse analysis and Conversation Analysis (CA) will be discussed here. Guides to CA specifically are discussed in the next subsection. The basic guides are Du Bois, et al. 1992 (with a discourse-functional orientation) and Edwards and Lampert 1993, both updated in Rehbein, et al. 2004 and Jenks 2011. A guide with a more ethnographic orientation is Powers 2005, and guides with more sociolinguistic orientations are Linguistic Data Consortium 2003 and Tagliamonte 2007. Beckman, et al. 2005, ToBI, and The New English ToBI Homepage deal with the ToBI (Tones and Break Indices) system of intonation transcription.

                                          Conversation Analysis Transcription Systems

                                          Conversation Analysis (CA) is the subfield of discourse analysis concentrating on the study of interaction between two or more speakers during one speech event, such as the issue of turn-taking between speakers, or simultaneous speech. Systems for CA tend to have their own guides. For symbols, the best is Jefferson 2004. Other useful guides are Hutchby and Wooffitt 1998 and Selting, et al. 2009. LIPPS Group 2000 focuses on bilingual or multilingual interactions.

                                          Specific Issues and Problems in Transcription

                                          This section deals with specific issues, first those related to Phonetic and Phonological Transcription, then to Discourse Transcription, and finally to Conversation Analysis Transcription. The Problem of Transcription Error and Validity warrants a special section.

                                          Phonetic and Phonological Transcription

                                          The main issue for descriptive and documentary linguists when transcribing is that of segmentation, i.e., how to segment the stretch of sounds into units, informally called “words.” Dixon and Aikhenvald 2002 argues for a solution consisting in distinguishing the phonological from the grammatical word, a solution deemed insufficient by Haspelmath 2011. Faber 1992 is a fascinating account on the origin of segmentation. Himmelmann 2006 addresses the problem of segmentation at the word level as well as on higher-level units.

                                          Discourse Transcription

                                          A wide variety of issues has been discussed. These include, first and foremost, the insight that all transcription is theory (Ochs 1979); also whether transcription is construction (Hammersley 2010) or a type of rhetoric (Luebs 1996), problems of matching corpora (Allwood, et al. 2005), comparisons of notation systems (Romero, et al. 2002), the role of naive writers of ethnographic texts (Haviland 1996), and innovative typography for representing oral narrative performances (Tedlock 1983).

                                          Conversation Analysis Transcription

                                          Here again, whether the transcript is constructed is an issue, as discussed in Ashmore and Reed 2000. The crucial problem of transcriber reliability is dealt with in Lane, et al. 1996; Patterson, et al. 1996; Pitt, et al. 2005; and Roberts and Robinson 2004. Other issues are comparative: comparison with IPA transcriptions (Kelly and Local 1989), comparison of impressionistic sound description to transcription (ten Have 2002), and comparison of ethnographic field notes to CA transcriptions (West 1996).

                                          Endangered Language Transcription

                                          Issues connected with the recent interest in language documentation and revitalization of endangered languages are dealt with here (see also the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on Endangered Languages). Jung and Himmelmann 2011 is a detailed discussion of issues of researcher-speaker collaboration in transcription. BOLD (Basic Oral Language Documentation) is a recent methodology for fieldwork on endangered or little-documented languages. It consists of requesting a native speaker with minimal training in linguistics to make an “oral transcription” of the original recording at normal or slower speed, so that a trained linguist can then carry out a written transcription on the basis of the “oral transcription.” This methodology is described in Reiman 2010 and evaluated in Boerger 2011. Needless to say, the term “oral transcription” is bound to remain controversial, as it is somewhat of a contradiction in terms. Finally, indigenous people’s interest in language revitalization has rekindled the philological study of transcriptions in old materials, as seen in Thieberger 1995 and Henderson 2008.

                                          The Problem of Transcription Error and Validity

                                          Transcription error has been discussed extensively, particularly regarding dialectology (Bailey, et al. 2005), sociolinguistics (Kerswill and Wright 1990), slips of the tongue in psycholinguistic research (Ferber 1991), and discourse (MacLean, et al. 2004; O’Connell and Kowal 2000; Pallaud 2002; Spinos, et al. 2002; and Tilley 2003).

                                          • Bailey, Guy, Jan Tillery, and Claire Andres. 2005. Some effects of transcribers on data in dialectology. American Speech 80.1: 3–21.

                                            DOI: 10.1215/00031283-80-1-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            The effects discussed include conceptual and normative differences regarding how some sounds should be transcribed and their values, and evolving practices regarding the importance of phonetic details the transcriber had previously overlooked. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                            • Ferber, Rosa. 1991. Slip of the tongue or slip of the ear? On the perception and transcription of naturalistic slips of the tongue. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 20.2: 105–122.

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                                              Slips of the tongue show as much as one in three errors in their notation, and there is much variation across transcribers. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                              • Kerswill, Paul, and Susan Wright. 1990. The validity of phonetic transcription: Limitations of a sociolinguistic research tool. Language Variation and Change 2.3: 255–275.

                                                DOI: 10.1017/S0954394500000363Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Electropalatographic experiment, showing that factors of a psychoacoustic nature and phoneticians’ inconsistencies impede accuracy. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                • MacLean, Lynne M., Mechthild Meyer, and Alma Estable. 2004. Improving accuracy of transcripts in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research 14.1: 113–123.

                                                  DOI: 10.1177/1049732303259804Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Issues examined include the use of voice recognition systems; notation choices; processing and active listening versus touch typing; emotionally loaded material; class and/or cultural differences among interviewee, interviewer, and transcriptionist; and some errors arising when working in a second language. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                  • O’Connell, Daniel C., and Sabine Kowal. 2000. Are transcripts reproducible? Pragmatics 10.2: 247–269.

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                                                    Part of a psycholinguistic study; errors—additions, deletions, substitutions, and relocations of notations—were classified into five categories: verbal, prosodic, paralinguistic, extralinguistic, and format.

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                                                    • Pallaud, Berthille. 2002. Erreurs d’écoute dans la transcription de données orales. Revue PArole 22.24: 267–294.

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                                                      Listening errors in the transcription of twelve oral corpora of spoken French, which turn out to be quite varied.

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                                                      • Spinos, Anna-Marie R., Daniel C. O’Connell, and Sabine Kowal. 2002. An empirical investigation of pauses notation. Pragmatics 12.1: 1–9.

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                                                        Detailed investigation of the London-Lund Corpus, showing as much as one in three errors in pause notation.

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                                                        • Tilley, Susan A. 2003. “Challenging” research practices: Turning a critical lens on the work of transcription. Qualitative Inquiry 9.5: 750–773.

                                                          DOI: 10.1177/1077800403255296Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          The ways in which the person transcribing a tape influences the resulting text. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                          Political, Legal, and Forensic Issues

                                                          In discourse analysis and CA, there has also been discussion of transcription as an element of power. This is most evident in legal proceedings, as shown in Hennink and Weber 2013 and Walker 1990; in institutional settings such as second language education, as shown in Green, et al 1997; in therapy, as shown in Ashmore, et al. 2004; and in forensic pursuits in general, as argued by Bucholtz 2000. Even in ethnographic research, issues of power can arise around transcription, as shown by Urban 1996.

                                                          • Ashmore, Malcolm, Katie MacMillan, and Steven D. Brown. 2004. It’s a scream: Professional hearing and tape fetishism. Journal of Pragmatics 36.2: 349–374.

                                                            DOI: 10.1016/S0378-2166(03)00005-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Professional hearing refers to what a particular expert chooses to hear; tape fetishism is the belief that the tape contains the truth, if heard correctly. Issues of interpreting and transcribing screams or laughter heard on tape, with data from a trial of American therapists involved in False Memory Syndrome. Written in an entertaining style. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                            • Bucholtz, Mary. 2000. The politics of transcription. Journal of Pragmatics 32:1439–1465.

                                                              DOI: 10.1016/S0378-2166(99)00094-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              Transcriptions, particularly those with forensic purposes, are embedded in relations of power. Useful examples from police interrogation or therapy transcripts showing how a transcript can be manipulated to emphasize reliability of the speaker or lack thereof, coherence or lack thereof, or articulateness or lack thereof. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                              • Green, Judith, Maria Franquiz, and Carol Dixon. 1997. The myth of the objective transcript: Transcribing as a situated act. TESOL Quarterly 31.1: 172–176.

                                                                DOI: 10.2307/3587984Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                Discussion of the extent to which transcription is a political act. The transcript is not the event itself, it is merely a representation of the event, and like all representations it is always interpreted. A TESOL perspective on the issues raised by Ashmore, et al. 2004 and Bucholtz 2000. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                                • Hennink, Monique, and Mary Beth Weber. 2013. Quality issues of court reporters and transcriptionists for qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research 23.5: 700–710.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/1049732313481502Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Qualitative comparisons between traditional transcribers and court reporters, focusing on transcription errors, cost, time of transcription, and effect on study participants. Transcriptionists made fewer errors than court reporters. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                                  • Urban, Greg. 1996. Entextualization, replication, and power. In Natural histories of discourse. Edited by Michael Silverstein and Greg Urban, 21–44. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                                                                    Examples of how transcription of unwritten languages by native speakers can differ from the original oral rendering, and implications for power relationships between the indigenous person and the ethnographer.

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                                                                    • Walker, Anne Graffam. 1990. Language at work in the law: The customs, conventions, and appellate consequences of court reporting. In Language in the judicial process. Edited by Judith N. Levi and Anne Graffam Walker, 203–246. New York: Plenum.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4899-3719-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Part of a comprehensive survey of linguistics and law issues. This contribution focuses on the power of court reporters regarding their choices when representing oral court proceedings and the problem of the “verbatim” report, since all transcription is an interpretive process.

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                                                                      Other Issues

                                                                      Several remaining issues are treated here. Norris 2004 deals with nonlinguistic or paralinguistic interaction. Hoiting and Slobin 2002 deals with sign language transcription. There are numerous programs useful to computer-aided transcription (as well as other kinds of annotation). Since this is a rapidly evolving field, readers are advised to refer to the journal Language Documentation & Conservation, which has excellent reviews of the most recent software, and to the links on the website Software Tools for Linguistic Anthropology. Among the most useful software tools for transcription are ELAN and Transcriber. Advanced tools for electronically aligning recordings to transcriptions are also being developed; an overview of the field of automatic phonetic transcription is in Cucchiarini and Strik 2003, and an example of an application to endangered language corpora is in DiCanio, et al. 2013.

                                                                      • Cucchiarini, Catia, and Helmer Strik. 2003. Automatic phonetic transcription: An overview. In Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Barcelona, 3–9 August 2003. Edited by M. J. Solé, D. Recasens, and J. Romero, 347–350. Adelaide, Australia: Causal Productions.

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                                                                        A short survey, emphasizing issues of reliability and validity, as well as advantages and disadvantages as compared to manual transcription.

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                                                                        • DiCanio, Christian T., Hosung Nam, D. H. Whalen, H. Timothy Bunnell, Jonathan D. Amith, and Rey Castillo García. 2013. Assessing agreement level between forced alignment models with data from endangered language documentation corpora. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 134.3: 2235–2247.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1121/1.4816491Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Forced alignment is computerized derivation of word and sound level labeling from word level transcription and a dictionary. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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                                                                          • ELAN.

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                                                                            ELAN is a tool for the creation of multi-tier annotations on audio and video recordings; it allows import from Transcriber and waveform visualization of .wav files. It is a favorite tool used for the transcription and analysis of text of little-known or endangered languages.

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                                                                            • Hoiting, Nini, and Dan I. Slobin. 2002. Transcription as a tool for understanding: The Berkeley Transcription System for sign language research (BTS). In Directions in sign language acquisition. Edited by Gary Morgan and Bencie Wool, 55–75. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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                                                                              Survey of the Berkeley Transcription System, with illustrations from American Sign Language, Dutch sign language, and comparisons with oral languages.

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                                                                              • Language Documentation & Conservation. 2007–.

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                                                                                Online journal, freely available, and based at the University of Hawaii. Regularly contains very detailed reviews of software for computer-aided transcription.

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                                                                                • Norris, Sigrid. 2004. Analyzing multimodal interaction: A methodological framework. New York: Routledge.

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                                                                                  Useful for the relationship between linguistic transcription and the transcription of nonlinguistic interaction, such as gesture or facial expression.

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                                                                                  • Software Tools for Linguistic Anthropology.

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                                                                                    Website maintained by the University of Virginia, with useful links to software that can aid in transcription.

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                                                                                    • Transcriber.

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                                                                                      Transcriber is a tool for segmenting and transcribing long-duration recordings and labeling speech turns and changes in topic. Although designed for the annotation of broadcast news recordings, it has been found useful by linguists, particularly regarding conversations.

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