Gender and Sexuality

My second qualifying paper and dissertation explore the sociolinguistic area of Language and Sexuality. Specifically, my research focuses on the construction and perception of a lesbian identity through speech, and sociolinguistic cognition underlying processes of stereotype formation and use. Sexuality is an excellent example for work on sociolinguistic styles because it's one which is clearly learned later in life and constructed as part of a social persona. A great deal of work has been done studying the speech styles associated with gay men, but work on lesbians is still limited. My own research has shown that speech patterns in women based on sexual orientation are not very strong, but listeners have clear stereotypes about the way lesbians speak. I have also found that differences among listeners, such as gender, affect their perceptions. My research looks in more detail at phonetic features that have not been previously explored in this area, both looking at how lesbian speech style is used by speakers, and how it is perceived by listeners.



My research has included work with help from Keith Johnson on the process of speech accommodation. When individuals interact, their speech changes. As a default their speech converges in different ways. This can range from change in lexical choices, to voice onset time. The underlying causes for this convergence are multiple and complex. Influences are psycholinguistic as well as sociolinguistic in nature. I am currently working with Alice Shen, Andrew Cheng, and Eric Wilbanks on a research project investigating the role of power in accommodation. We look specifically at how positions of power influence patterns of accommodation, and how this relates to the influence of speakers personal sense of power.



Past research includes work with Susanne Gahl on the Up Project, which investigates the influence of age on speech production. This goes beyond the changes resulting from physical changes in the vocal tract, to understanding how and why speakers sound different with age before reaching what would be considered old-age. The Up Project uses linguistic data from the Up Series British documentary films. This series is an excellent tool for longitudinal linguistic analysis. Findings from the Up Project have revealed that even starting at young-adulthood speech follows in similar ways across individuals. This research provides another perspective on the socio-psycholinguistics interface. With further research looking at listeners perception of age through speech, I am exploring to what extent these age-related changes are a result of sociolinguistic expression of age, rather than, or in addition to, psychological changes in speech production.


Phonology-syntax interface

My Master’s qualifying paper addressed the question of wh-movement in American Sign Language and how the syntactic movement relates to phonetic features of the language. ASL, as well as many other sign languages expresses wh-questions through rightward movement (though the process in ASL is still under debate). Rather than relying entirely on a syntactic explanation, I argue that this movement in ASL is due to a phonetic-syntactic drive shared by all languages, as proposed by Norvin Richards, to reduce the number of phrase boundaries between the wh-phrase and the specifier of the CP. ASL uses movement in wh-questions exactly as predicted by the theory. This pattern is not found in spoken languages, which is explained as being due to constraints on linguistic processing and short term memory. Why these constraints do not apply to ASL or other signed languages may be due to the difference in modality, but the explanation is very complex and requires further research to fully understand.

In the Field Methods course led by Darya Kavistkaya we studied and documented the Turkmen language. Following my focus on the phonology-syntax interface in question intonation, my final report was a description of content and polar questions in the language.