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 language use in Oregon, an understudied locale in The West. A forthcoming paper, Variation in West Coast English: The case of Oregon, is co-authored with former Reedies Anna Aden (class of 2014), Katelyn Best (class of 2013) and Haley Jacobson (class of 2013). In it, a production analysis of the speech of 34 Oregonians (collected in 2012), found participation in the General West Coast feature of /u:/ (BOOT) fronting, and some evidence of the low back merger. Oregonians also front /oʊ/ (BOAT) and there is evidence of early participation in the California Vowel Shift (CVS) with change in apparent time that points towards further participation. Additionally, Oregonians participate in  /æg/ (BAG) and /ɛg/ (BEG) tensing, suggested to be distinctive features of the Pacific Northwest. Participants who express an Ideology of Non-Accent on a map task are more likely to participate in bag and beg tensing and less likely to rotate CVS vowels. Taken together, the results suggest a broader scope for the CVS than has been previously described, as well as provide evidence of dialect diversity in The West that is linked to speakers’ language attitudes. In addition, I am currently working with Richard Adcock (class of 2016) on a set of perception experiments investigating Oregonian's perceptions of one feature of the California Vowel Shift, the backing of BAT. We received a 2015 Ruby-Lankford grant for summer research on this project, and have reported early results on Oregonian's abilities to perceive a backed BAT as well as the social meaning(s) they associate with this feature at the recent Cascadia Workshop in Sociolinguistics (CWSL).

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. 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 sociolinguists, 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.

Creaky Voice in American English. With Sameer ud Dowla Khan, and Lal Zimman (now at UC Santa Barbara), I am investigating the complex relationship between gender identity and the use of creaky voice quality (often called "vocal fry" in the media). Supported by the Stillman Drake and Summer Scholarship Funds, this project began in early 2014 and is continuing to grow in scope. Our corpus includes acoustic, electoglottographic (EGG), and perceptual data. With additional help from the Mellon Foundation, our data has been made available to the larger community of researchers in linguistics on Dataverse. Currently, we are challenging ideologies around the links between gender and creak in American English by looking a diverse sample of speakers with respect to sex and gender; early research were presented in fall 2015 at NWAV, and we plan to report on the full sample soon.