A lowkey presentation at American Dialect Society

A couple of summers ago, members of the Socio Lab got into a heated side-discussion about the pragmatics of adverbial lowkey, as in:

  1. I lowkey like pineapple on pizza.
  2. Lowkey I’m hoping the Cavs will lose.

There was debate about whether sentences like this were grammatical for each of us (they mostly weren’t for anyone over 30), and whether the lowkey meant ‘secret’, ‘kinda’, or a whole bunch of other things (here the group split even more finely, undergrads vs grads). Danielle Brown, an undergraduate at the time, decided to investigate further for her senior thesis. She learned that there was no published research on adverbial lowkey, but that undergraduates at two other institutions had conducted some investigations of their own. By coincidence, they were the students of MSU PhD alumni Ai Taniguchi (Carleton University) and Greg Johnson (then at Louisiana State University). Danielle built on their work and fielded a judgment survey to friends and family in her social network. Respondents were presented with sentences like (1) and (2) above, and given a list of possible adverbial substitutions for lowkey such as honestly and discourse particles such as well. Danielle discovered that when lowkey is in sentence-initial position, as in (2) above, people often selected discourse particle substititons. This aligned with an intuition expressed by some students in the lab that low key in sentence-initial position is already becoming semantically bleached, becoming similar to sentence-initial like e.g. Like I’m hoping the Cavs will lose.

After her BA graduation, Danielle teamed up with MA Linguistics student Morgan Momberg to refine her survey and field it to a much larger number of respondents. This time they considered the effect of the ‘popularity’ on the interpretation of lowkey. They presented their results in a talk titled Lowkey opinion or lowkey fact: Exploring the acceptability of sentence-initial lowkey at the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society in New Orleans in January 2020. As they report in their abstract,

The emerging adverbial use of lowkey has received little attention, especially in sentence-initial position. In a judgment survey (N=52), respondents rated the felicitousness of sentence-initial lowkey in fictional scenarios across three conditions we call ‘unpopular’, ‘popular’ and ‘factual’. As hypothesized, lowkey was most felicitous with unpopular opinions, e.g. Lowkey this lasagna tastes awful in a scenario where everyone eats lasagna, followed by popular opinions e.g. Lowkey this lasagna tastes amazing, and factual statements e.g. Lowkey everyone is eating lasagna. Our survey results suggests possible pragmatic variance in the use of sentence-initial lowkey.

MSU Socio people at NWAV 48

Current and former Michigan State sociolinguists were recently at the NWAV 48 (New Ways of Analyzing Variation) conference, October 10-12. The Eugene, Oregon location meant that not everyone could make the long trip, but presenters included:

Former MSU Sociolinguistics students Monica Nesbitt (now a post-doc at Dartmouth College) and James Stanford were also there, along with former faculty Dennis Preston and Marisa Brook. We enjoyed a great MSU+affiliates dinner on the Friday night.

Thanks to the members of the lab who gave us valuable feedback on our practice presentations!

SLA meets LVC: Second language acquisition of sociolinguistic variation at SLRF conference

Irina Zaykovskaya (PhD 2019) and Suzanne Evans Wagner are co-convening a colloquium at this week’s Second Language Research Forum (SLRF) conference, hosted by Michigan State University’s Second Language Studies program. The colloquium, held on Friday, September 20th, is titled: Catching interlanguage in action: When SLA meets language variation and changeThe goal is to bring together researchers who study second language acquisition of sociolinguistic variation, using quantitative (and often also qualitative) methods.

Irina’s PhD studies were in the Second Language Studies program, but she took a graduate course in sociolinguistics with Suzanne in 2014, and subsequently decided to take a variationist sociolinguistic approach to her work. Suzanne became her co-advisor, and Irina defended her dissertation (on L2 acquisition of US English vernacular like) in 2019. Researchers like Irina, who work at the interface of SLA and LVC, are still quite rare. SLRF seemed to be a good opportunity to inform other SLA scholars about the insights afforded by LVC approaches. To further support this initiative, Irina has created an online resource hub for people interested in SLA+LVC.

The other panelists include Xiaoshi Li (MSU), Kimberley Geeslin (Indiana University-Bloomington) and Matthew Kanwit (University of Pittsburgh). 

Rural fieldwork on display at MSU undergraduate conference UURAF

On April 5th, undergraduate sociolinguists Jared Kaczor and Travis Coppernoll presented their poster Football, Church and Free Breakfast: Doing Sociolinguistic Research in Rural Communities Around Lansing at the 2019 Michigan State University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF). The project, which has been running since August, focuses on two small communities in a rural part of mid-Michigan. Jared and Travis have been developing an ethnography via trips to football games, church coffee mornings and local cafés. They have just begun to record sociolinguistic interviews with residents. The goal of the project is to compare rural speech with the Sociolinguistics Lab’s existing corpus of urban speech.

GLEAMS and NWAV Workshop Summaries

There will be no Sociolinguistics Lab meeting this week, due to GLEAMS (Graduate Linguistics Expo At Michigan State), although all are welcome to attend any and all GLEAMS sessions! A special congratulations goes to Alex Mason and Matt Savage for their talk Style and Attitude: The Social Evaluation of the BET Vowel, which they presented at NWAV earlier this month. If you missed their talk in New York, your chance to see their encore performance is Saturday, November 3, 2018 at 3:55pm in Wells Hall, B-342.

GLEAMS is open to the public, and begins Friday, November 2, 2018 at 1:00pm (Wells Hall B-342)

The next sociolinguistics lab meeting will be on November 9, 2018 at our regular time (2:00pm), where attendees of NWAV 47 Workshops will present synopses of the sessions they attended. Presentations are scheduled to run as follows: 

  • 2:00 – 2:20    Computational sociolinguistics and eye-tracking for sociolinguistics
  • 2:20 – 2:40    Automated, non-invasive phonetic measurements  [demo ISCAN]
  • 2:40 – 3:00    Best Practices in Sociophonetics   [demo Clox]
  • 3:00 – 3:20    Integrating undergrads into corpus studies/data collection
  • 3:20 – 3:30    Plan any future in-house workshops on the above, depending on need/interest

If you didn’t get a chance to attend NWAV, or you attended NWAV, but not any of the workshops, this is your chance to catch up on what you missed!

Congratulations to NWAV 47 Presenters!

The Sociolinguistics lab will be sending many projects to the 47th Annual NWAV Conference at New York University in New York City from October 18-21, 2018, including several talks! Congratulations to Silvina Bongiovanni, Monica Nesbitt, Matt Savage, and Alex Mason for getting accepted!

There will be practice talks in the weeks leading up to the conference, and all are invited to attend lab meetings to learn more and/or provide feedback!

Please see the Sociolinguistics lab calendar for specific dates of each practice talk! 

  • TRAP: The loss of tensing in Michigan (Monica Nesbitt)
  • Style & attitude: The social evaluation of the BET vowel (Matt Savage & Alex Mason)
  • On the relationship between vowel nasalization and nasal weakening: Evidence from a Caribbean and non-Caribbean dialect of Spanish (Silvina Bongiovanni)
  • It’s a TRAP!: The trigger for the Elsewhere Shift in Lansing, Michigan (Alex Mason)
  • Attitudes toward TRAP in Michigan (Monica Nesbitt)
  • “It’s an American Symbol!”: Non-native speakers’ take on remarkable LIKE (Irina Zaykovskaya) – Practice Talk: October 5, 2018; Wells Hall B243; 12:30pm-3:00pm via Skype