MSU Grandparents University is an opportunity for grandparents and grandchildren (ages 8-12) to come together for a three-day educational experience while spending time together on the MSU campus in the summer. This past summer, MSU Sociolinguistics created a course called Diary of a Michigan Kid. In this class, Michigan Diaries team members taught participants about keeping an audio diary, pronunciation differences, and generational differences in language. See below for some pictures from the event.
On April 14th, undergraduate Sociolinguistics Lab members Caroline Zackerman, Whitney Kuta, Mikayla Thompson, Newt Kelbley and Zach Sebree presented their posters at the 2023 Michigan State University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF). Our presenters discussed their projects with a general audience, interacted with visitors, and answered questions about their research. Congratulations to our UURAF presenters!
Socio Lab member Mikayla Thompson (Linguistics major) has been accepted for a competitive NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) opportunity this summer.
Mikayla will spend 8 weeks at the University of Oregon as part of its initiative “Increasing American Indian/Alaska Native Perspectives in Field and Experimental Linguistics“. The REU includes instruction on topics in descriptive linguistics and experimental linguistics, hands-on research in two labs, and input from local Indigenous educators and researchers.
Mikayla shared why she chose this program and her goals and hopes:
“This opportunity to study language revitalization methods at the University of Oregon stood out to me initially because of the particular nature of the classes and research. The focus on language revitalization processes in relation to my compiled knowledge of linguistics is exactly what I would like to do post-graduation. I intend to utilize the knowledge presented in these classes and fieldwork to better inform myself of methods of preserving and reviving Indigenous American languages. As a descendent of the Cherokee Nation, I know quite intimately the degree to which language repression and subsequent language endangerment has influenced Indigenous communities, and what it means for the future. I hope to apply what is learned at the University of Oregon to my own communities, so that I may more deeply familiarize myself with my ancestral language, Cherokee, and to eventually pass it down to others in my communities.”
Socio Lab member Newt Kelbley (BA Linguistics) has been accepted in to the Forensic Linguistics MA program at Cardiff University in Wales. Congratulations, Newt!
Newt is a Linguistics major investigating the syntax of sociolinguistic prompt questions in the MI Diaries project. Newt will start the one-year MA program in the fall of 2023. They shared why they want to study Forensic Linguistics at Cardiff University:
“I want to study there because it is one of the few places that have such a specific degree program, and I want to know more about the interface between language and law. I’m interested in this because this branch of linguistics is still growing and reaching its potential, and the applications seem unlimited. Mostly what’s appealing is what I’ve learned about the work of forensic linguists seeking to critically highlight problems in the judicial system, like comprehension challenges in jury texts, inadequate courtroom translations, or falsified written documents. Using research to inform and enhance the practice of law and make it fairer for the disadvantaged seems like a noble goal.”
Students in LIN 471 Sociolinguistics conduct original research projects on style-shifting by a public figure. Abby Jarosziewicz, an English major with a concentration in Pop Culture, submitted her project on Taylor Swift in Fall 2019, and continued it as an Honors Option in Spring 2020.
Abby examined Swift’s use of “tentative speech”, first labeled by Robin Lakoff (1975) in the seminal book Language and Women’s Place. Lakoff identified numerous examples of hesitant or tentative speech, from which Abby chose two: hedges (e.g. “that was kind of rude”) and disclaimers (e.g. “I think that….”). The questions she asked were:
- Does Taylor Swift’s overall use of tentative speech decrease over time as she grows in maturity, confidence and relevance?
- Does Taylor Swift consistently use more tentative speech with male interviewers over time?
Abby found in her fall pilot project that Swift used more tentative speech with men at a single point her career. She hypothesized that this would remain the same throughout her career, because Swift’s power relationship with men has largely not changed. Abby also hypothesized, however, that overall Swift would use less and less tentative speech over time.
To test her hypotheses, Abby selected 12 video interviews conducted for 6 album release press tours (Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red, 1989, Lover) from 2006 to 2019. For each album, one interview was conducted with a male interviewer and one with a female interviewer. 11 of 12 interviewers were white; interviewers were aged 30-65. Abby extracted from the videos every hedge and disclaimer, and calculated their frequency per minute of Swift’s total talk time.
Abby’s hypotheses were upheld. Swift’s overall rate of tentative speech declined across the press tours, from 1.5 per minute during the Taylor Swift launch, to 0.9 during the Lover launch. And at every time point except one, Swift uses more tentative language with the male interviewer than with the female interviewer. The exception is the press tour for Red, in which tentative speech peaks with both interviewer genders, exceeding even the rate for Taylor Swift, at 1.9 tokens/minute.
This study seems to support a narrative in the media about Taylor’s Swift’s growing comfort with public feminism, legal agency and political influence. Nonetheless, more controlled research is required for the findings to be confirmed. Abby points out that there are confounds in the data, such as inconsistency in the ages, ethnicity and familiarity of the interviewers; presence vs absence of a studio audience; and inconsistencies in the amount of talk time per interview and per time point.
Nonetheless, this was a great example of a student taking a class project a step further and asking new questions. Thanks for allowing us to share your results, Abby!