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    Crowdsourcing Language Change with Smartphone Applications

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        Crowdsourcing linguistic phenomena with smartphone applications is relatively new. In linguistics, apps have predominantly been developed to create pronunciation dictionaries, to train acoustic models, and to archive endangered languages. This paper presents the first account of how apps can be used to collect data suitable for documenting language change: we created an app, Dialäkt Äpp (DÄ), which predicts users’ dialects. For 16 linguistic variables, users select a dialectal variant from a drop-down menu. DÄ then geographically locates the user’s dialect by suggesting a list of communes where dialect variants most similar to their choices are used. Underlying this prediction are 16 maps from the historical Linguistic Atlas of German-speaking Switzerland, which documents the linguistic situation around 1950. Where users disagree with the prediction, they can indicate what they consider to be their dialect’s location. With this information, the 16 variables can be assessed for language change. Thanks to the playfulness of its functionality, DÄ has reached many users; our linguistic analyses are based on data from nearly 60,000 speakers. Results reveal a relative stability for phonetic variables, while lexical and morphological variables seem more prone to change. Crowdsourcing large amounts of dialect data with smartphone apps has the potential to complement existing data collection techniques and to provide evidence that traditional methods cannot, with normal resources, hope to gather. Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize a range of methodological caveats, including sparse knowledge of users’ linguistic backgrounds (users only indicate age, sex) and users’ self-declaration of their dialect. These are discussed and evaluated in detail here. Findings remain intriguing nevertheless: as a means of quality control, we report that traditional dialectological methods have revealed trends similar to those found by the app. This underlines the validity of the crowdsourcing method. We are presently extending DÄ architecture to other languages.

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        Human research and data collection via the internet.

        Advantages and disadvantages of Web and lab research are reviewed. Via the World Wide Web, one can efficiently recruit large, heterogeneous samples quickly, recruit specialized samples (people with rare characteristics), and standardize procedures, making studies easy to replicate. Alternative programming techniques (procedures for data collection) are compared, including client-side as opposed to server-side programming. Web studies have methodological problems; for example, higher rates of drop out and of repeated participation. Web studies must be thoroughly analyzed and tested before launching on-line. Many studies compared data obtained in Web versus lab. These two methods usually reach the same conclusions; however, there are significant differences between college students tested in the lab and people recruited and tested via the Internet. Reasons that Web researchers are enthusiastic about the potential of the new methods are discussed.
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          By 2025, when most of today's psychology undergraduates will be in their mid-30s, more than 5 billion people on our planet will be using ultra-broadband, sensor-rich smartphones far beyond the abilities of today's iPhones, Androids, and Blackberries. Although smartphones were not designed for psychological research, they can collect vast amounts of ecologically valid data, easily and quickly, from large global samples. If participants download the right "psych apps," smartphones can record where they are, what they are doing, and what they can see and hear and can run interactive surveys, tests, and experiments through touch screens and wireless connections to nearby screens, headsets, biosensors, and other peripherals. This article reviews previous behavioral research using mobile electronic devices, outlines what smartphones can do now and will be able to do in the near future, explains how a smartphone study could work practically given current technology (e.g., in studying ovulatory cycle effects on women's sexuality), discusses some limitations and challenges of smartphone research, and compares smartphones to other research methods. Smartphone research will require new skills in app development and data analysis and will raise tough new ethical issues, but smartphones could transform psychology even more profoundly than PCs and brain imaging did.
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              Author and article information

              [1 ]Phonetics Laboratory, Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
              [2 ]Laboratoire d’Informatique pour la Mécanique et les Sciences de l’Ingénieur, CNRS, Orsay, France
              [3 ]Department of Comparative Linguistics, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
              [4 ]Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
              [5 ]Department of English, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
              [6 ]German Department, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
              Beihang University, CHINA
              Author notes

              Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

              Conceived and designed the experiments: AL MK RP. Performed the experiments: AL MK. Analyzed the data: AL MK RP. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: AL MK RP DB EG. Wrote the paper: AL MK RP DB EG.

              Role: Editor
              PLoS One
              PLoS ONE
              PLoS ONE
              Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
              4 January 2016
              : 11
              : 1
              © 2016 Leemann et al

              This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

              Figures: 15, Tables: 1, Pages: 25
              This study and its authors were supported by 64 backers in a crowdfunding campaign through the website wemakeit in the summer of 2012 (
              Research Article
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              All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information file.



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