Acoustics of Understudied Varieties of English

Current research in the Sociolinguistics Laboratory combines the methods of variationist sociolinguistics, social network analysis and sociophonetics to address topics associated with understudied varieties of English. Interethnic contact has shaped the sociolinguistic landscapes of many locations in the United States, but many descriptions of American English focus only on ethnic majority groups. It is important to describe minority varieties of the language, their structures, histories and evolution. The PNWE study investigates the linguistic features of Yakama Nation, Chicano/a, African-American and Japanese-American speakers, heretofore unrepresented within the landscape of Washington Englishes, despite the longstanding presence of these groups in the region. This project also aims to uncover information about ways that minority dialects impact majority dialects.

Another current project provides acoustic information about systematic sources of variation that arise from the interaction between dialect phonology and physiological factors. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) calls for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to develop and use practices effective in separating issues associated with normal dialect phonology from those that are clinical. Yet dialect phonology baselines are seriously lacking, as are educational opportunities for SLPs to receive training in them. This is a general issue which received significant public attention in the case of one high-profile speaker, Rachel Jeantel, who discussed the impact of underbite on her speech. Ms. Jeantel is also a multilectal black speaker, fluent in both African-American English and Haitian Creole. Such speakers have long been part of the United States population, but multilectal African-Americans represent an ever-growing proportion of the population. Linguists, educators and SLPs require data regarding the acoustics of understudied varieties to inform professional training and practice.

Latest research:

Wassink, A. B. (2021) Uneven Success: Racial Bias in Automatic Speech Recognition. Invited lecture: Martin Luther King, Jr. Colloquium, University of Michigan, Department of Linguistics. 18 January, 2021. [PDF][Video]

Wassink, A. B. (2020). Uneven success: Automatic speech recognition and ethnicity-related dialects. Talk presented at AAAS, Seattle, WA.[PDF][Video]