A mobile laboratory for the spoken languages ​​of France

Scientists crisscross France aboard a fully equipped truck to record and restore the richness of the language spoken in France. An astonishing project to discover on May 18 and 19 on the Condorcet Campus, in Aubervilliers, during the new edition of Innovatives SHS, a fair for the promotion of human and social sciences organized by the CNRS.

If the idea of ​​going to document languages ​​evokes great international expeditions, this mission can also be carried out by crisscrossing the roads of France in a truck. The Listen-Speak Project presents itself as a mobile language laboratory, with all the necessary equipment on board. It aims to build a corpus of recorded voice in order to describe and model it, and thus ensure the conservation and enhancement of everyday language. Objective: to help create the largest database of languages ​​spoken in France.

Listen-Speak is an atypical device that allows us to get in touch with people while remaining connected to our technological platforms. », explains Olivier Baude, professor of language sciences at the University of Paris-Nanterre, member of the Models, Dynamics, Corpus (MoDyCo) laboratory and scientific manager of Listening-Speaking at the General Delegation for the French language and the languages ​​of France (DGLFLF, attached to the Ministry of Culture). The digital era has greatly simplified the collection, storage, study and dissemination of sound documents, offering tools that linguists are gradually taking advantage of. The data collected is thus processed to facilitate access and reuse according to current open science practices.

Explore the diversity of language

Spoken language exists in many different forms, this is what variationist linguistics studies.continues Olivier Baude. The language indeed changes according to the places, and this beyond the only question of the accent, with regionalisms or particular syntaxes. Variations appear according to times and social groups, but also according to contexts and means of communication.. Thus, one does not speak in the same way to a friend on the telephone as when one is in front of a recruiter.

Conference by Ferdinand Brunot at the Faculty of Letters of the Sorbonne (late 19th century).

The idea of ​​exploring this diversity of language across France dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, with the work of the linguist Ferdinand Brunot (1860-1938). ” Until then, researchers worked only on written documents, often very uniformsays Olivier Baude. In the archives of speech, his major project started in 1911, Ferdinand Brunot made the very first recordings dedicated to linguistics, and made it possible to work on the oral forms of languages ​​with, for the first time, the possibility of re-listening to what he had heard on the ground. »

Ferdinand Brunot thus traveled across France to record languages, dialects and patois, both with personalities and ordinary people in the laundry or in the café. The First World War, however, put an end to his project. His recordings were transferred in 1938 to the National Sound Library of the BNF, just created by Jean Zay, then Minister of National Education and future founder of the CNRS. They have since been digitized and are freely accessible on Gallica. The CNRS also set up its own platform dedicated to the archiving of sound documents in the early 2000s: Cocoon (for Collection of digitized oral corpora). This is hosted within the Huma-Num research infrastructure, which allows the storage, processing and access to research data in the humanities and social sciences.

Make a sound portrait » from France

Ferdinand Brunot already wanted people to hear their own recordingsemphasizes Olivier Baude, while the wax rollers were so fragile that they were damaged after only four or five listenings. He really wanted to give back to registered people access to this knowledge. » The Listening-Talking truck shares this spirit and combines its scientific vocation with a mission of mediation, by making it possible to listen to the recordings and to navigate, thanks to a touch screen, through enormous resources on the languages ​​spoken in France. The artist guykayser has even been associated with this facet of Listen-Speak to improve the experience for the general public.

Many partners are also involved in this adventure in contact with the territories and French linguistic diversity: the Ministry of Culture and its DGLFLF, at the initiative of the project and which carries it with the CNRS, the European House of Sciences of Man and Society (MESHS), MoDyCo and partners of the linguistic pact of the Hauts-de-France Region.

1652714399 837 A mobile laboratory for the spoken languages ​​of France

The interior layout of the truck can accommodate the public for scientific mediation activities.

Together, we want to draw a vast sound portrait of France enthused Olivier Baude. This work is first manifested by a collection phase thanks to the recording equipment installed in the truck. The word is recorded there in the form of interviews, but also more free discussions. The truck will follow “tours” coordinated by Thomas Chretien who is writing a thesis on participatory science, starting with Hauts-de-France to study Picard, but can also be used for parallel projects, for example related to the memory of a specific place or event.

An interest in technology

In addition to research and mediation, Listening-Talking touches on real technological issuesinsists Olivier Baude. Voice assistants and automatic translators have become widely available, and we want to check whether they are affected by accents or social variations of language. » Collection is thus used as part of of the Voice Lab project, which recently received aid of 4.7 million euros from the Public Investment Bank. This grouping of start-ups and research laboratories, which work on language technologies, aims to constitute important resources on French. ” Without this, the Gafam would continue to have a virtual monopoly on large databases, essential for training artificial intelligence. “laments Olivier Baude.

For the moment, the truck will circulate mainly in the Hauts-de-France region and in mainland France, but the team hopes that the project will also be deployed overseas, then outside the national territory to discover the Francophonie. Considered as a prototype, it could also serve as an example for other traveling laboratories in linguistics and in various disciplines. Its next stop will be in Aubervilliers, on May 18 and 19, to participate in the Innovatives SHS 2022 exhibition, organized by the CNRS.

To know more
The website of the Innovatives SHS exhibition, May 18 and 19, 2022, Campus Condorcet, Aubervilliers

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A mobile laboratory for the spoken languages ​​of France


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