lingu log

Recording tips for linguists

This tutorial page is intended for linguists who are either doing field work or recording voice data for phonological/phonetics analysis; however it can be used in other disciplines and other projects.

First of all this tutorial is only personal experiences of the author and may not apply to any other situation or other people’s experience. Secondly you can contact me if anything in this tutorial is either not correct, or did not work for you.

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Fig 1 spectral frequency display of my name, Image courtesy of: Adel Rahimi

Okay, first things first: know what you are doing. Always think forward. I have seen a lot of people who said we’ll record and analyze, it’s an easy task but NO! It is not. Recording data is a tremendously hard task. You cannot predict what is going to happen. And sometimes you cannot even control it.

Recording: Always try to record in a studio otherwise you will get a lot of noise and it will make your job on noise reduction and analysis hard. If a studio is not available try to minimize background noise e.g. going to a quiet place with few people around (even slightest movements like caressing your hand on a table or even cloth will be audible) especially if you are recording indoors close all the windows and doors and move to a quiet room (preferably big enough in order not to have reverb while recording)

You have two options here a) recording straightly to your computer or b) recording data in a Voice Recorder.

If you choose the first option i.e. recording data directly on your computer you’ll have to have a microphone. There’s no way you can record a good quality voice via pre-equipped microphone on your computer

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Fig 2 3.5 mm audio input (microphone input) right, and headphone jack on the left

A simple 3.5 mm microphone would suffice however mostly you will get some noise by using 3.5 mm jacks.

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Fig 3. 3.5 mm jack, image courtesy of

XLR is far more professional than 3.5 mm however you need to spend more on your equipment. Most computers don’t have XLR input so you need to spend a few hundred bucks on sound card. And also you have to buy a microphone with XLR output which will probably cost you a little more but looking at the bright side you will get a great sound quality I mean studio quality! A new line of USB microphones has just emerged which they have Sound Card equipped within themselves and they have USB output which is great for low budget recording.

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Fig 4. XLR connector, image by Michael Piotrowski

There are a lot of Recording Softwares which almost all of them provide the same quality; however more professional softwares give you freedom on exporting uncompressed (i.e. loosing less data). We will be discussing two major softwares here that I personally recommend.

Audacity: Audacity’s UI is really simple you have your recording button on top, your recording volume you can click on the level sound to monitor your recording and then you can start recording. By the way Audacity is completely free!

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Fig 5. Screenshot of Audacity, Courtesy of Adel Rahimi

Adobe Audition: Adobe Audition gives better control however most controls are available instantly, you HAVE to know the hotkeys, unless you’ll get lost in the menus.

fig 6 Fig 6. Screenshot of Adobe Audition CC, by Adel Rahimi

Options for recording data in Voice recorders is more versatile. You can easily record through Voice Recorders built-in microphone which is enough for field working. Most Voice Recorders have XLR input as well as 3.5 mm jack the professional ones even have 2-4 XLR input (like Zoom H6 which has 4 channels that you can record audios)

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Fig 7. Zoom h6 recorder, image

Editing: There are numerous softwares for editing sounds. I personally use adobe Audition for editing my data. You cut delete and monitor easily without affecting the original file thanks to a feature called: non-destructive editing. You can see the pitch display by clicking on the button as shown in fig. 8

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Fig 8. Click the blue button to show the pitch display

Noise Reduction: Noise Reduction is crucial part in editing. It can be either constructive or destructive. For language documentation only where you don’t directly analyze sound waves for example documenting language grammar otherwise you have to know what you are doing unless DON’T.

I will be doing a whole series of videos mainly focused on Noise Reduction soon.

Further reading:

  • Kinsler, L.E., Frey, A.R., Coppens, A.B. and Sanders, J.V., 1999. Fundamentals of acoustics. Fundamentals of Acoustics, 4th Edition, by Lawrence E. Kinsler, Austin R. Frey, Alan B. Coppens, James V. Sanders, pp. 560. ISBN 0-471-84789-5. Wiley-VCH, December 1999., p.560.