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Broadly speaking, my research is concerned with the social meaning of phonetic variation. I am particularly interested in theories of indexicality, as all of my work seeks to offer precise analyses of the ways in which sound patterns connect to the social world. In doing so, I have drawn on a range of data types and data collection methods (fieldwork, articulatory investigations, acoustic analysis, perceptual techniques), each offering different insights into what linguistic variants mean.

A question underlying most of my work is how the social meanings of linguistic features (whether highly conventionalized or surfacing only ephemerally in moments of talk) influence their patterns of distribution. This influence may be evident in the speech of single individuals as they navigate the different arenas of their lives (e.g., individuals exhibit stronger Californian accents when talking with friends at dinner than when talking with a supervisor at work) or across communities as sound change occurs (e.g., community members in rural California resist sound changes that originate in urban centers; African Americans in Washington, DC may not retain features of their speech that are ideologically associated with Southern dialects).

Much of my research has focused on language, gender, and sexuality. I have argued for an approach that treats the phenomenon of “sounding gay” as a context-dependent interactional achievement. Linguistic features that might be recruited in the construction of sexuality serve a variety of functions, some of which relate more directly to the interactional context than identity projection per se.

Voice Quality: Discourse, Interaction, and Embodiment

One of my current research projects investigates the social and linguistic dimensions of voice quality variation – specifically creaky voice, breathy voice, falsetto, and nasality – from a range of perspectives. From one perspective, I have been examining patterns of production in sociolinguistic interviews with residents of California’s Central Valley (collaborator: Anita Szakay) as well as Washington, DC (collaborator: Sinae Lee). From another, I am using articulatory methods (pneumotachography, electroglottography) to study how trained actors draw on voice quality variation to perform popular character types (collaborators: Katherine Hilton, Kyuwon Moon). Finally, I have recently begun a project on the interactional dimensions of voice quality variation (collaborators: Patrick Callier, Rob Voigt, Katherine Hilton, and Teresa Pratt using data collected in the new Interactional Sociophonetics Laboratory (essentially a sound-proof booth staged as a living room with inconspicuous video cameras). This work is built on the premise that voice quality variation is is embodied (e.g., through gesture, posture) and structured by discourse, and that claims about its social meaning should attend to interactional dimensions of its use.

Voices of California

Another current project is a collaboration between students and faculty in my department known as Voices of California. Each year, we visit to a lesser-studied region in California and interview residents about their community and life histories. The corpus of recordings serves as an archive about language and life in these communities, as well as a dataset for investigating linguistic variation. I am involved in projects examining the progression of the California vowel shift (collaborators: Annette D’Onofrio, Seung Kyung Kim, Janneke Van Hofwegen), the acoustic realization of sibilants (collaborator: Janneke Van Hofwegen), voice quality variation (collaborator: Anita Szakay), and phrase-final lengthening (collaborators: Jeremy Calder, Penny Eckert, Julia Fine).