Great Lakes Speech and Society (GLASS)

This project examines the vowels of English spoken in the Great Lakes region. The vowel system in this geographic area emerged from a series of sound changes known as the Northern Cities Shift. We have been compiling recordings of conversations with longtime residents in order to establish whether the Northern Cities Shift is continuing, stable, reversing, or being replaced with a new vowel system. We’ve also conducted some preliminary research on listeners’ evaluation of Great Lakes speech. Our results to date converge with prior work in Chicago, IL and Syracuse, NY in that we find surprisingly little evidence for the expected Northern Cities Shift vowel configuration in its entirety. Furthermore, at least two vowels — TRAP and LOT — seem to have accumulated some social stigma.  

The recordings in the Greater Lansing area are drawn from the Lansing AutoTown oral history archive, the IHELP-MI corpus of sociolinguistic interviews with college students, and short interviews with members of the public that we continue to collect on a rolling basis. We’re comparing findings from Lansing with other ongoing research in:

and we plan to increase our collaborative efforts with other scholars currently working on the past and present of the Northern Cities Shift.

Students working on related projects: Monica Nesbitt, Alexander Mason, Matt Savage, Mingzhe Zheng, Saya Uehara.
Contact: Dr. Suzanne Wagner (Linguistics)
Funding: National Science Foundation BCS1251437(Principal investigator: Dr. William Labov, University of Pennsylvania); MSU College of Arts & Letters Research Award 2015-2016; MSU College of Arts and Letters Faculty Summer Fellowship 2016.

  • Zheng, Mingzhe. 2017. You have to learn to adapt: A sociolinguistic study of the “Asian City” of southeast Michigan. Doctoral dissertation. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University.
  • Zheng, Mingzhe. 2017. Ethnic identity construction: The interlocutor effect on the TOOTH vowel in Chinese American English. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 46, Madison, Wisconsin, November 2-5.
  • Uehara, Sayako & Suzanne Evans Wagner. 2017. Progressive outliers in listener perception of sound change. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 46, Madison, Wisconsin, November 2-5.
  • Nesbitt, Monica. 2017. A Rust Belt feature? Economic change and the decline of raised TRAP in Lansing, MI. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 46, Madison, Wisconsin, November 2-5.
  • Nesbitt, Monica & Alexander Mason. 2016. Evidence of the Elsewhere Shift in the Inland North. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV) 45, Vancouver, Canada, November 3-6.
  • Wagner, Suzanne E., Alexander Mason, Monica Nesbitt, Erin Pevan & Matt Savage. 2016. Reversal and re-organization of the Northern Cities Shift in Michigan. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics: Selected Papers from NWAV 44. 
  • Savage, Matt, Alexander Mason, Monica Nesbitt, Erin Pevan & Suzanne Evans Wagner. 2016. Ignorant and annoying: Inland Northerners’ attitudes towards Northern Cities Shift short-o. Poster presented at American Dialect Society Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.
  • Wagner, Suzanne E. & Robin Dodsworth. 2016. Conceptualizing and coding social class in North America. NSF satellite workshop Preparing your Corpus for Archival Storage: Coding for Socioeconomics, Education, Language Choice, and Stance (co-organizers Malcah Yaeger-Dror and Christopher Cieri). Linguistic Society of American Annual Meeting, Washington DC.  

East Asian Sociolinguistics

The Linguistics department counts expert phonologist of Chinese, Dr Yen-Hwei Lin, among its faculty, along with Dr. Karthik Durvasula, a phonologist with years of experience in fieldwork and experimental research. As a result, many of the Linguistics graduate students are pursuing projects on both phonetics/phonology and sociolinguistics. Some current and recent examples include:

  • Chenchen Xu’s perceptual dialect mapping of China, presented at NWAV 44, and her ongoing experimental research on attitudes to ‘Taiwanese’ syllable contraction;
  • Xiaomei Wang‘s work on change in the tone system in Tianjin dialect, for which she has conducted more than 60 sociolinguistic interviews with a socially stratified sample of residents of the city. To be presented at NACCL 28;
  • Mingzhe Zheng‘s analysis of Chinese-Americans’ participation in the Northern Cities Shift, presented at NWAV 44 and NWAV 46.
  • Qian Luo‘s study of the social distribution of tone merger in Guangzhou Cantonese.

We hope to keep this momentum going. So look out for us eventually at NWAV-Asia Pacific, or in Asia-Pacific Language Variation!

Grammatical Variation from Adolescence to Young Adulthood

This is a joint project with Dr. Sali Tagliamonte of the University of Toronto. Varieties of English around the world have seen a huge rise in the use of be like as a quotative verb (e.g. He was like, “Are you serious?”) and new intensifiers such as so and super (e.g. I was so mad; She was super serious). But does use of these new forms increase over individual lifespans as well? We’re looking at speech from young women recorded in high school, college and their mid-twenties to see what happens. 

Contact: Dr. Suzanne Wagner, Linguistics
Funding: MSU College of Arts and Letters External Connections Award, MSU College of Arts and Letters Undergraduate Research Initiative (CAL-URI).