thesis week 1

This week was really momentous. I had a second pivot once I realized the idea I’d settled with was in fact not going to work, but after a lot of thinking (as well as some vital help from my advisors and husband, all of whom were great soundboards) I finally feel like I’m in a truly solid place.

the idea

The project will have two components, both of which will be using motion typography and audio narrated by New Yorkers:

The first part is more linguistic — I will ask my narrators to read off of a list of sentences written to highlight NYCE’s unique phonology in comparison to General American English. These include:

  • Rhoticity + Intrusive R (“fourth floor,” “idea”)
  • A-split (“act” vs “bad”)
  • Cot-caught split
  • Father-Bother/Palm-Lot-Thought split
  • TH-DH stops (“they think”)
  • S Retraction (“street,” “stranded”)
  • Coda L (“cool”)
  • Intrusive G (“long,” “singer”)

I’m recording a fairly long list with several iterations of the same phonemes, but in the end I’d be picking just one word or phrase for each. I’d splice up the audio of all my narrators saying the same word (or pair of words, for the splits), and create fluid animation that visualizes these distinctions. To the right is a rough prototype of how this might look, with “coffee” as an example of the cot-caught split:

I may not be using all of the markers listed above, depending on how clean the recordings turn out and how much work each piece takes; I’ll have to decide what priority to give each, probably based on distinctiveness.

The second part is more social — I will ask my narrators to read off a list of descriptions of New York City, NYCE, and New Yorkers, following three different threads:

  • Speed/Energy (“NYC is fast-paced, dynamic,” “NYCE is quick, intense, direct,” “NYers are always on the go”)
  • Roughness/Sleekness (“NYCE is strong and dominant,” “NYers are gruff and tough,” “NYC is a meatgrinder of a place”; but also, “NYCE is cool and suave,” “NYers are slick,” “NYC is sleek and polished”)
  • Stigma/Appreciation (“NYers are insufferable,” “NYC is a cesspool,” “NYCE is horrible and sloppy”; but also “NYC is a world-class city,” “NYCE is lovely,” “NYers are fierce and real”

I will also be asking my narrators a few questions relating to these tropes (for example, “Where do you find peace in NYC?”) to explore what lies beneath the surface. As with the first part, the narrations would be interspersed in a video, with motion typography serving to embody these characteristics.

Ultimately, my goal is to compel the viewer to investigate their own impressions of this city/people/speech system, and question their accuracy or nuance. Philosophically, I hope to instill the idea that there are, and have been, multiple New York Cities; that it’s okay for this place to hold polarizing and contradictory views in people’s imaginations; and that we can all belong here if we cultivate the communities we wish for.

the timeline

Here’s my tentative timeline, from mid-January up until the end of the semester (blue line representing this past weekend):

I feel pretty good about this — I think there’s enough flexibility, given all the moving parts, that I can keep working on something even if I get stuck on one thing. I’m making good progress on my current items:

  • Survey Analysis: I’m about halfway through — lots of menial copying and pasting of formulas on Google Sheets.
  • Schedule recordings: I reached out to 13 people, 11 of which have confirmed they would like to participate. It seems like a trivial thing but it really means a lot to me. Four of those 11 are already scheduled for next week, the rest are in the process of finding a time that works.
  • Script: I’ve finalized the set of phrases for part 1, and just need to compile the list of descriptors for part 2, which I’m hoping to do later tonight. I’m planning on printing out the phrases in cardstock and cut them up like flashcards, so I can shuffle them around between each take. I’ll need to have them ready tomorrow so I can pick up the print job on Tuesday ahead of my first recording.