Tag Archives: language

Transcription and reflexivity

IPA chart ~ CC BY-SA Nickshanks, Grendelkhan, Nohat

IPA chart ~ CC BY-SA Nickshanks, Grendelkhan, Nohat

For research projects that incorporate transcripts, the transcription process can feel like a necessary evil that you have to get through in order to move on to “real” analysis. Transcribing recordings yourself can be a revelation and a great way to get close to your data, but at the same time there’s a wall of tedium people hit, when transcription would be gladly traded for a less painfully tedious task, like maybe plucking your own eyelashes out using two playing cards as tweezers. (If you blink you have to start over, but at least you don’t have to transcribe anything.)

Even hiring transcription out can be tedious. Everyone seems to hit the tedium wall eventually, and transcripts trickle in slowly.

Last week I saw a list message from an anthropologist looking for someone to transcribe interviews with speakers of an Appalachian variety of English — which reminded me of a project I worked on that included interviews with speakers of a non-standard (and often stigmatized) flavor of American English [1]. One of the most interesting things about the project for me was seeing how ideas about language and representation surfaced during the transcription process.

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An example of why culture and design matter for the user – it’s in the details

An Xiao Mina’s latest post about seat numbers in China is a great example of how design that attempts to understand the user’s world matters. She explains in her post why there is no 12E in this photo:

Contrary to intuition for English speakers, seats 12F and 12D are next to each other on the train. Why no 12E? After some time, I realized it’s because the letter E sounds like the number 1 in Chinese.

Without awareness of how the letter E sounds in this context, any designer (Chinese speaking or non-Chinese speaking) could easily overlook this very minor detail that would great confusion for a person who is looking for their seat.

Minimizing unintentional confusion in design requires attention to the details. This is why ethnography and user studies are important.