Kara Becker

Welcome! I am a sociolinguist with interests in variation and change, dialectology, ethnicity, and social meaning. You can take a look at the courses I teach at Reed on the Teaching page, and read a bit about my research here.

Research Interests

The Oregon Language Project. This project investigates dialect use in the state of Oregon, a locale that is understudied in sociolinguistic and dialectological research. We’re currently working with two kinds of data in order to enhance our contemporary understanding of Oregon dialects. The first is data on production: we record native Oregonians reading words lists, narratives, and engaging in conversation to establish through acoustic analysis the current state of English as produced in Oregon. The second is "folk" perception data, gathered through a map task where residents indicate where boundaries between accents are on a map of Oregon. In addition to our basic goal of gathering contemporary data on Oregon English, we specifically ask if Oregonian's folk perceptions of dialect correlate with their production. I currently collaborate with Anna Aden, Katelyn Best, Rena Dimes, Johnny, Flores, and Haley Jacobson. We will present on our work at the meeting of the American Dialect Society in Portland in January, 2014, and will contribute to a planned PADS volume on Speech in the Western States.

Regionality and Ethnicity. Most traditional approaches to regional dialects in the United States have gathered data primarily from white speakers; yet we increasingly work in urban areas and other communities where diverse residents are born, raised, and interact. I question the fixed boundaries around terms like ethnolect and dialect in a paper in Language and Communication, Linguistic Repertoire and Ethnic Identity in New York City. A similar perspective is taken in my 2010 paper co-authored with Elizabeth L. Coggshall, The vowel phonologies of African American and white New York City residents, where we explore the vowel phonologies of African American and white New Yorkers and find that African American New Yorkers do produce regional features. Elizabeth and I also discuss ethnicity and regionality in our 2009 piece for Language and Linguistics Compass, The sociolinguistics of ethnicity in New York City.

New York City English. My 2010 dissertation revisited the famous Lower East Side of Labov (1966). Many of the interviews that I conducted, as oral histories in collaboration with Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and CityLore, are currently housed at The Tenement Museum. In my sociolinguistic research I present contemporary quantitative data that update our view of New York City English. I have worked on the complex short-a system of NYCE: with Amy Wong in our 2009 paper The short-a system of New York City English: an update, we found a change away from the complex, phonemic system in favor of a simpler, nasal system for white and Chinese New Yorkers.  I also work on the low back rounded vowel (in words like dog and coffee), or BOUGHT, that is traditionally raised in NYCE. In fact, I find a dramatic reversal of the change in progress towards BOUGHT raising described in Labov (1966) for the Lower East Side. Today, there is a change in apparent time away from raised BOUGHT. I document this change and outline an indexical field of social meanings for raised BOUGHT in my 2014 paper The social motivations of reversal: Raised BOUGHT in New York City English, to be published this September in Language in Society. Finally, I work on /r/ vocalization in NYCE. In my 2009 paper in the Journal of Sociolinguistics, I argued that /r/ vocalization was used by speakers to construct a place identity, so that locally-orientated topics significantly favored non-rhoticity in contrast to non-local topics which favored rhoticity. More recently, I have published a quantitative analysis of (r) for 64 Lower East Side residents in Language Variation and Change, (r) we there yet? The change to rhoticity in New York City English.

The Sociolinguistic Artifacts Website. I received funding from Reed in 2012 to develop The Sociolinguistic Artifacts website: www.reed.edu/slx-artifacts. This is a central location for “artifacts” – media like video, images, websites and news articles, and audio – that aid the teaching of sociolinguistics in the classroom. The site is currently live and is available to sociolinguistics, sociolinguistic students, and sociolinguistic enthusiasts. Check it out, browse artifacts, and feel free to submit your own! I discuss the resource in this 2014 article in American Speech, The Sociolinguistic Artifacts Website: Using media in the Sociolinguistics classroom.