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Map Task Activity: Fieldwork

March 23, 2011

It’s not that troublesome finding the right native speakers of Kelantan Malay for the Map Task Activity. You know, I have a special access. My big brother works at the Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, so he’s got some superpower to “enslave” some of his lucky students for my research, haha. But trust me, all the recruitment processes were done in a fair and ethical manner. These people are voluntary and happy enough to be my experimental “rats”. No threats nor blackmailing nor higher marks in the final exam. So, without much hassle, I’ve got what I wanted – four healthy pairs of good friends (two male pairs and two female pairs) who are studying at the same good university and have known each other well enough that eliciting friendly and casual “fights” among them shouldn’t be a complicated business.

Now, where should I conduct the recordings? Not to worry, I have this nice “studio” loaned by a good friend of mine who works at the same university, huhu. Arif surely doesn’t mind that I have creatively transformed his boring workspace into a human speech laboratory, like this.

I know, the whole setting looks a bit dodgy and rudimentary. It’s not as sophisticated and sound-attenuated as the recording studio at the University of Melbourne. But hey, I’ve got everything that I need here – a high-quality digital recorder, two great condensed microphones, one bag of Kopiko for motivation, eight ready-to-rock participants, one ready-to-dance researcher, and of course, the four map-pairs!

Now that things are set and ready to go, here is the deal.

First, the participants are paired (have I established this already?). Besides being paired with their familiar partner, they also will be tested with another pair who is unfamiliar to either member of the first pair. This co-ordinated pairing system is called a Quadruple. So, two male pairs will form one quadruple, while two other female pairs will form another quadruple.

Yes, how does this quadruple work? Okay, each quadruple will use a different set of four map-pairs. Each participant will then take part in four dialogues, twice as an instruction giver and twice as an instruction follower, once in each case with a familiar partner, and once with an unfamiliar partner. As an instruction giver, they give directions on the same map, but when following, they use (of course) different maps each time. Or else, it’ll be like cheating, right?

Okay, maybe these visual aids will get you there.

As you can observe here, each pair sits opposite to each other with their maps hidden from each other (thanks to those poorly-designed barriers!). One participant is assigned as an instruction giver (who has a route marked on the map), while the other is assigned as an instruction follower (who has no route). They are told that their main goal is to “transfer” the giver’s route on the follower’s map. Note that the giver’s and follower’s maps are different in some respects (some landmarks are missing on one of the maps!). Now, all they can do to complete the task is, guess what, Speak. Talk. Pronounce. Communicate. Just say whatever frickin’ thing they want to say. But excuse me, no vulgarities, please.

Now, how did these participants handle their jobs? Quite hilariously. I was sitting quietly behind them, watching live “dramas” so patiently, and trying very hard to suppress my laughter. The tasks were sometimes impossible. They could be very tricky. However, most of the time, I sat there admiring at the wonders of human communication. The messages were conveyed so smoothly regardless of speech rate or any other speech obstacles. Some participants were clever and innovative enough to create their own strategy so the task could be completed in a relatively short period of time. Some were struggling and meticulous enough that the conversation was dragged for more than one hour! But all in all, the basic ingredient for human survival took place – communication.

Oh, you might have noticed that there is a slightly different setting for male and female pairs. There are two ugly boxes placed on the table between male participants, right? These boxes serve as a visual barrier between the male pairs. This is designed on purpose so that I can manipulate another variable in the map task activity – eye contact. Ideally, the first quadruple (two female pairs) is allowed to make eye contact with their partner, while the second quadruple (two male pairs) is not allowed to do so with their partner (and hence the two ugly boxes!).

You ask me, why do I care about these extra variables of familiarity and eye contact? To be frank, I don’t care. In fact, that’s the main concern for psychologists or researchers in other disciplines who might be interested in human communication at different conditions. Yes yes, I might end up getting different findings due to these controlled communication contexts. But, for heaven’s sake, all I really care is what’s coming out of these people’s mouthes!

So, at the end of the experiment, I gathered 16 dialogues from the participants. 16 wonderful dialogues. Did these participants produce singletons and geminates quite differently from my 10 Yummy Desserts? I have yet to figure out. I have not started transcribing them yet. But, I know, something big is coming. For this reason, I want to thank all of these participants for their “rat-ful” enthusiasm. Rest assured, their beautiful voices will contribute to one of the groundbreaking research in human speech.

Efi & Sya from Pasir Puteh

Faridah & Akmal from Bachok

Pok Yi & Pok Ek from Pasir Mas

Anislan & Faris from Kota Bharu

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