Stanford Project Looking For Humboldt Voices


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Across the vast swaths of California, there are different tells — certain turns of phrase or inflections used in everyday conversation — that can reveal quite a bit about where a person was raised.

From the, like totally, stereotypical rising lilt of Valley Girl speak (along with the gratuitous use of the word “like”) to the reference style many in this far-flung corner of the Golden State embrace — using simply “101” in describing our local highway — the way we talk can speak volumes.

Interspersed with those linguistic influences, the places we grow up help shape the lens through which we see the world.

Arriving this week to explore those facets of Humboldt County are a group of researchers from Stanford University. In town until Sept. 21, they want to hear what lifelong Humboldt County residents have to say about their community and the rest of California — as well as how they say it.

Part of the Voices of California project documenting “life and language” across the state, the linguists are looking to interview folks who were born and raised on the North Coast — especially those whose families have been here for generations — to record their oral histories and learn about the area’s unique way with words.

Their goal is to connect with a diverse cross-section of people to help create a roadmap of “the social and linguistic variety of the state,” says Emily Lake, one of the field workers who will be conducting interviews.

The aim, she says, is “to get an idea of the community, what life is like here and what might have changed,” along with recording any distinct parlances or pronunciations that might set the area apart from the rest of our California brethren.

In addition to sharing their views, each interviewee will be asked to read the same list of words.

“We wanted to make sure California was represented as it is, rather than just the California you see on TV,” linguistics and anthropology professor Penny Eckert says in a university release. ”There’s cultural and linguistic diversity across the state that doesn’t fit neatly into those California stereotypes we see over and over again in popular media.”

Over the last six years, the group of researchers has conducted more than 600 interviews in the state’s more rural nooks and crannies to gauge perspectives and note the many versions of California speak.

One of the Stanford graduate students on the project — Kate Lindsey — has a personal connection to this current location, having grown up in Humboldt County.

“Humboldt is the perfect addition to the project,” she says in a university announcement. “There’s a community and a way of life around the Humboldt Bay that you can’t find anywhere else and we’ll get to add a new way of talking ‘like a Californian’ to our project. I’m excited to introduce the team to my home and learn more about Humboldt’s rich history and diversity.”

Interviews have also taken place in the counties of Merced, Shasta, Kern, Sacramento and Salinas.

Asked if the project is still seeking volunteers, Lake answered emphatically, “Definitely, definitely, definitely.”

For more information on the project or to find out how to participate, visit the Voice of California website here or call 407-9027.

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