A Day at the Auction: A Look at Rhythm in Linguistics

Auction houses offer an incredibly diverse sound scape, with noises ranging from animal sounds to local vernacular phrases being used in conversation. Although there could be an argument made for the musicality of any of these sounds, the place where it really stood out to me was in the sound produced by the auctioneers. Hearing this sound is probably the first time I noticed rhythm in a place other than those in which was portrayed the traditional idea of music. The rhythm in the way the auctioneer conveys price always made me want to bid just to be a participant in this process.

The auctioneer serves a very important role in the way in which individuals interact with the buying process. Although the auctioneer is not always a part of the auction process (i.e. Silent auctions) the rhythm created by the auction generates a sort of urgency to place a bid.

For this project I have collected a sound recording at the Kingsport Livestock Auction to assess the use of rhythmic linguistic patterns used in the livestock purchasing transaction. This recording consists of 10 minutes of auctioneer speech which I transcribed through the use of drum tablature. This transcription will be further analyzed to properly to identify and understand the rhythmic qualities and patterns that create the sound scape that is identified as an essential element of creating the atmosphere that is a livestock auction.

The cultural importance of the auctioneer is made clear though the existence of auctioneer competitions, this form of performance separates the auctioneer from the practical financial application of auctioneer speech and transforms it into a performance art.

A day at The Auction

The Kingsport Livestock Auction is an old metal building that sits just off the main road a few miles up from the Eastman chemical plant in Kingsport, Tennessee. When arriving, the first thing you will see is a parking lot absolutely filled to the brim with trucks and trailers of all types (well, mostly domestic trucks). As you get out of your vehicle you are greeted with the loud noise of cattle mooing and the very heavy, but yet appealing (to some) smell of cow manure. As you get closer to the metal building, divided into a stock yard area and an auction house, you will notice groups of people comigrating outside. By the greeting, it is easy to tell that these are folks that attend this auction fairly regularly.

At 10:30, a voice comes over the speakers giving the warning “all buyers to the ring the auction is about to begin. The auction house itself is a large room full of old theater type seats that look down at a ring filled with wood chips. In the center of this ring is a stand from which the auctioneer conducts the spectacle that unfolds as the auction commences.





From the recording collected at the livestock auction, we can detect clear rhythmic patterns that are consistent as part of every sale. These patterns are a long beat (the price that the auctioneer is trying to broadcast) and then a series of rapid-fire beats that crate this almost luting sound, similar to that of beat boxing. The duration of these rapid-fire beats vary as can be seen around the 2:30 mark in the audio clip, this variation in length is due to the frequency of bids. Every time a bid is placed, the auctioneer uses a long note to establish a new price. However, if bids are not coming in frequently, the rapid section will continue on, creating an exchange that almost feels like the auctioneer is asking a question over and over to elicit a response. This observation is aligned with the contention by W. Hoogestraat in “What about the Auctioneer?” that an auctioneer is there to be a mediator on the behalf of the seller. This variation in rhythm is a way in which the auctioneer can influence the selling process.


In conclusion, it is clear that the auctioneer serves a very important role as a mediator of the sale. However, without the rhythmic pattern and variations that they use in their transaction with the audience of prospective buyers, the auctioneer would not be able to subtly pull off the sales negotiation that is an integral part of the auctioneer’s role.

By Keegan Luckey-Smith


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