Current research projects

Cognitive characteristics of the leaders of language change

This NSF-funded project aims to advance our understanding of language change by characterizing the leaders of sound change in cognitive and social psychological terms. We analyze conversational speech to identify differences between young women in their position with respect to two ongoing sound changes, then correlate those differences with performance by those same individuals on an battery of experiments tapping sociolinguistic awareness, domain-general cognition, and personality traits.
A related collaboration with Steve Kimbrough, Robin Clark, and Gareth Roberts involves building agent-based models to test theories of leader networks for innovating and propagating changes.

Variation in the lab

At the Language Variation and Cognition Lab we investigate the mental representation of linguistic variation using experimental techniques from psycholinguistics. Current lines of experimental inquiry by lab members include the use of priming techniques to detect intermediate levels of syntactic structure and morphological identity; the influence of voice repetition, dialect exposure, and working memory taxation on priming; and the development of experimental diagnostics of variant salience.

The dynamics of variation in individuals

Most quantitative research in sociolinguistics models the stratification of variation at the community level. In a recent manuscript, Dave Embick, Laurel MacKenzie and I set out a research program asking "What factors affect whether a given speaker will produce a given variant of a variable in an actual instance of use (i.e., in real time)?". On the technical side of this question, Chris Ahern, Aaron Ecay and I are exploring the use of statistical methods to model temporally-ordered sequences of variable observations.

The Philadelphia Signs Project

Like their spoken counterparts, sign languages have different dialects and change over time. I'm thrilled to be collaborating with Jami Fisher, Julie Hochgesang, and members of the Philadelphia Deaf community to record interviews for an annotated sociolinguistic corpus of the Philadelphia variety of American Sign Language. The pilot phase of this project is supported by a Research Opportunity Grant from Penn's School of Arts and Sciences.