Joys and Woes of Transcribing

I actually have a little bit of transcribing experience (some was paid–now that’s a trap. Most tedious ten hours I’ve ever worked). Those have all been linguistics-based transcriptions, though, so this might be a little different. The way I’ve been trained, it’s very important to include every single syllable, even the abundant “mmhm”s of the interviewer. I’ve been considering the purpose and audience of this oral history, and I suspect they’re a little different from what I’m used to typing up. While I’m inclined to include the pauses and “um”s and false starts, I feel less justified putting them in here, because reading over it, it sounds like the interview subject is unsure of what he’s saying. But listen to the interview–he’s got complete command over what he’s telling the interviewer.  I’m leaving them in for now…I might alter my methods a little before I do my next transcription assignment.  I’ve been reading everyone else’s blog posts and I think we’re all sharing the same thoughts. We want to be true to the oral (+ aural) form by recording each utterance faithfully, but we also recognize that oral and written are very different media (cf. Portelli’s observations as discussed in class), and we understand that translating oral to written is a complicated and loaded task. It’s difficult to negotiate the boundaries of oral vs written, trying to keep from sounding strangely forced or wildly unfocused. I’m hoping we’ll talk in class and come to some sort of consensus on transcribing. At the very least, we could err on the side of consistency.

The subject of the interview delighted my linguist’s ear. He used a few words in ways I’d not heard before and was intrigued by several new and exciting pronunciations. I’m definitely going to listen for these features around town now.  The interviewer, I think, did a good job of letting the subject tell his story. The questions seemed to flow naturally, which only works if you’ve been listening to your subject (I know this.), and were open enough that more story and more answers grew from them. It didn’t seem like it was a struggle to get information from the subject, which is always a good sign, so I think this interview was pretty successful (at least in its first ten minutes).


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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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