LaVaLi at CLARe6

Some of us got to spend three sunny days in Tübingen at CLARe6 – the Conference on Language and Aging Research – presenting our current LaVaLi-related research. 

Anne-Marie Moelders and Isabelle Buchstaller presented on “Quotative Variation Across the Life-Span”. Their paper focuses on quotative be like, which shows a gendered effect across the  life-span, with female speakers increasing and male speakers decreasing their be like usage as they age. This confirms how stereotyped the variable is: there are several x/twitter threads by users complaining about how much they hate it when people use be like.

Next up, Anne and Isa presented “The stylistic correlates of ageing”, also on behalf of their co-authors Lea Bauernfeind and James Grama, highlighting the complex relationship between aging and style. They find that speakers in their 30s change the most as they grow older, and they are also the ones who produce the greatest variation in the ways in which they say “my dog” or “my face” related to the topics they speak about.

Johanna Mechler’s talk “Age and Gender Effects in Evaluating Younger and Older Voices” covered her cross-regional perception experiment, part of which she already presented at a Feminist Conversations event last year. While the results show only minimal differences between US and UK listeners, they indicate both an age and gender effect: Middle-aged male speakers are perceived as more professional and intelligent than younger males and females, who receive lower ratings overall. On the other hand, female speakers receive significantly higher friendliness and trustworthiness ratings than male speakers.

In the final poster session, Hannah Sawall and Isa presented the poster “Intensive Change Across the Life-Span?” also on behalf of their co-authors Lea, Yasmina Bouziani, and Elisavet Kyriakoudi. They showed how both the speaker community and speakers across their adult life-span change their use of the English intensifier system (intensifiers are modifying words like very, really, so) with ongoing competition between different intensifiers.

Our days were packed with insightful talks and discussions, lovely conversations, and probably the best conference food we’ve ever had! We would like to thank the organizers for doing a fantastic job and look forward to CLARe7 in 2026!

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LaVaLi and Feminism?

In November 2023, the “Feminist Conversations”, a monthly discussion round by, for, and with women were taken up at the University of Duisburg-Essen again – and the LaVaLi team is taking part! So in case you ever wondered how research on language change across the lifespan is related to feminism, here’s an example for you:

Titled “Beyond Words: Investigating Gender and Age Biases through Sociolinguistic Research”, Johanna Mechler (PhD candidate at the Sociolinguistics Lab) introduced us to existing biases and structures and rhetorics that uphold them. It’s important to note that it’s natural for humans to make assumptions based on stereotypes and own experiences, but at the same time, it’s necessary to always be ready to challenge and/or correct those assumptions to avoid doing harm by putting people in incorrect boxes. The connection between the voice and someone’s identity is not always straightforward, but it is always influenced by the perception of others. For example, some women adjust the pitch of their voices to sound lower to appear more masculine and thereby more competent as there seems to be a link between being perceived as male and higher competence. Some see this practice as self-censorship, some as a way to claim power and to be taken seriously. 

Johanna used audio samples from the LaVaLi corpus to conduct several perception studies. In one study,: she played snippets from LaVaLi speakers of different ages to her study participants and asked them to rate the speakers on four scales: intelligence, professionalism, trustworthiness, and friendliness. She found that participants rated older men as the most competent but inversely young women as the most trustworthy group, pointing out that both gender and age biases are at play when people form judgements based on someone’s voice. 

“Feminist Conversations” participants were invited to ask questions but also to share their own experiences, which led to a lively discussion. For example, one person shared about having attended a workshop for academic professionalisation where women were advised to lower their voices; someone else brought up how female characters in German-dubbed children’s TV shows often have much higher-pitched voices than their English-OVR counterparts. Overall, the event revealed how research on language, gender, and ageing is often directly relevant to real-life, and also how results from our research can be used to open up conversations around biases and stereotypes.

We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation at the next “Feminist Conversations”!

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LaVaLi at NWAV51

Four LaVaLi representatives recently attended the 51st New Ways of Analyzing Variation conference in New York, organized by NY’s Queens College. The conference featured an array of insightful talks and posters and the team had a blast!

Carina Ahrens presented a project launch poster on her upcoming project, which is analysing language dominance in multilingual speakers’ brains. The project aims to combine perspectives from sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics to investigate different areas in the linguistic architecture and see whether speech in a laboratory and conversational speech behave in the same way. The goal is to reinterview and reconduct cognitive tests with the same individuals to see how a longer exposure to a dominant foreign language (by staging in a country where that language is spoken) influences another learned language.

Anne-Marie Moelders presented findings on her ongoing PhD research on the quotative system. She was supposed to be joined by Isa Buchstaller who sadly couldn’t attend as her ESTA was denied (that’s what you get for attending a colleague’s wedding in Iran). Quotatives are used to introduce speech or thoughts, such as “I said: I’m going home”. Their talk focused on the newcomer be like (e.g. I was like “this is great”). Their findings highlight that speakers over thirty avoid using be like, which is associated with young speakers and female speech. Meanwhile, a gendered effect was observed in younger age groups, with women increasing its use and men reducing it. Anne and Isawere the first to investigate be like in a panel sample (that is: the LaVaLi corpus!) that spans the whole adult lifespan! 

Anne Moelders and Lea Bauernfeind furthermore presented on the different ways in which speakers realize variables that are currently undergoing change in the community such as the FACE vowel – in words like FACE, GATE, and BAY – and the first person possessive as in “it’s my house”. Together with James Grama and Isa Buchstaller they find that speakers do indeed produce different patterns for these variables depending on the situational context (formal interviews vs relaxed conversations with friends and family). The data suggest that speakers in their 30s realize really interesting linguistic patterns. We hypothesize that this is due to the professional pressures (we like to call them linguistic marketplace pressures) these individuals are subjected to in their everyday lives (at work and elsewhere).

Johanna Mechler presented findings of one of her ongoing PhD research projects, in which she compared US and UK listeners’ evaluative responses to Tyneside voices. In an online experiment, participants were asked to listen to and to rate voice samples by female and male speakers of the LaVaLi corpus who were in their 20s and 40s.
Surprisingly, the results revealed no significant difference between US and UK listeners. However, Johanna found strong age and gender effects in her data: Middle-aged male speakers are perceived as more intelligent and more professional, especially when we compare their results to female speakers in their 20s. On the other hand, younger female speakers are perceived as significantly more friendly and more trustworthy than younger male speakers. So, typical (socio-normative) age and gender stereotypes are also evident in speech perception.

Lea and Johanna also gave a talk on behalf of their co-authors James Grama and Isa Buchstaller, focusing on the realization of the linguistic variable (ing) in “running” vs “runnin’”. They find that most speakers from the North East of England, and especially the younger ones, realize the majority of their “running words” as “runnin’ words”, irrespective of whether they talk to a good friend or an unfamiliar interlocutor. This might come as a little surprise considering that other studies have found speakers to orient towards more polite speech, i.e. “running words”, when speaking to strangers but we think the lack of this phenomenon is due to the overwhelming presence of “runnin’ words” in the speech community. Nonetheless, we find that speakers do indeed produce more polite variants/“running words” when they’re reading compared to when they’re speaking. That’s so cool! 

Thanks again to the organizers of this fantastic conference and to all the attendees who we got talking to! See you next year at NWAV52!

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Inaugural LinPin conference in Essen

Picture of the LinPin Logo; it's a pin like it's used to pin locations onto maps with the text "LinPin" in it and green bubbles that hang from the top on black strings

Organized by the Sociolab’s doctoral students Anne-Marie Moelders, Johanna Mechler, Christian Paga and Laura Imhoff, LinPin took place for the first time on 26 September 2023 at the University of Duisburg-Essen. The aim of LinPin (Linguistics Ph.D. Students in NRW) is to exchange ideas about doctoral projects and experiences on the path to a doctorate in linguistics. The one-day event enabled the 30 participants from all over NRW to present and discuss their own linguistic dissertation projects in poster presentations and to find out who is currently doing a doctorate in NRW, how and on which research topics in linguistics. For example, Johanna Mechler and Anne-Marie Moelders presented their LaVaLi findings: Johanna reported on findings on a perception experiment in which she compared US and UK listeners’ evaluative responses to Tyneside voices and Anne presented her findings from a production study on quotation.

Photo of Johanna Mechler showing off her poster

An opening speech by Prof. Isabelle Buchstaller, Director of the Sociolinguistics Lab, focusing on the importance of networking was followed by an interactive exchange phase among the PhD students themselves. Then, the speakers Christina Ringel and JProf. Andreas Weilinghoff shared their successful doctoral paths with the participants, particularly how to deal with different kinds of challenges that PhD students face.

Photo of the poster session with posters displayed on blue walls and people gathering around them while someone is giving a short presentation

Due to the success and great interest in the event, a selection process is now being developed to plan at which university LinPin will take place next – so the start has been made to establish LinPin as an annual event at various universities in NRW.

Photo of a view of the organizing committee on stage from the back of the room. People are sitting on chairs facing them, the projected slide reads "Thank you! See you next year :)"
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LaVaLi goes UKLVC14!

Three LaVaLi representatives went to UKLVC14 in Edinburgh to showcase the project findings. The conference had an amazing lineup of talks and posters and was a great overall experience! 

Carina Ahrens presented parts of her bachelor’s thesis (parts of which are featured in a previous blogpost) as a poster, attracting valuable feedback from international linguists. Her poster showed changes in two vowels (FACE and GOAT) over time in one speaker. While the speaker is moving first towards the pan-northern variant and then back to the local variant in the vowel FACE, she is becoming less local in her production of the vowel GOAT. Thus, in contrast to previous findings FACE and GOAT do not behave in the same way. 

Anne-Marie Moelders showcased her ongoing PhD research on intraspeaker malleability across the life-span through a poster presentation on changes in the quotative system across the lifespan of our panel speakers. She found that speakers over thirty eschew the use of „be like“ while uncovering a gendered effect in the younger age brackets: Female speakers tended to increase their „be like“ rates, while male speakers exhibited a decrease.

The conference concluded with a plenary presentation by Prof Isa Buchstaller, in which she summarized the previous findings of the LaVaLi project and underscored the critical significance of panel research in understanding language variation and change across the lifespan. Thereby she tied together the findings from the LaVaLi project with the overall conference theme.

We appreciate the work that the conference organisers put into making the conference as accessible as possible.  Sign language interpretation was available for all of the presentations and many talks featured variation in sign languages. Besides listening to all kinds of interesting talks, all attending members were able to engage in numerous conversations with other researchers of their fields and exchange ideas for upcoming studies and research projects.

Looking forward to UKLVC15 in Lancaster in two years! 

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NWAV50 – our experience at another hybrid conference!

taken from the NWAV50 website

New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV) is an annual conference dedicated to research on sociolinguistic variation. This year, NWAV50 was hosted in San Jose and online by Stanford University. Some members of the Sociolab attended, and they also presented their own research on language change across the lifespan. We’ll share our research and experiences at NWAV50 below! Weiterlesen

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Methods XVII – our first in-person conference in over two years!

taken from the Methods XVII website

It’s been a while but we’re back with another blog post! This time, we’ll report on our first in-person conference in over two years.

During the first week of August, members of the LaVaLi team attended the Seventeenth International Conference on Methods in Dialectology (Methods XVII) in Mainz. Over the course of five days, we heard talks on (Dia)Lects in the 21st Century (the conference theme), took part in discussions and got to meet fellow linguists from all over the world – fun!

We also presented our findings from the DFG-funded LaVaLi project which is concerned with the way speakers show variation and change in their language patterns as they grow older and move through different life stages. We’ve summarized our talks below! Weiterlesen

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Let’s start 2022 with a recap – intro to Zotero by Anne-Marie Mölders

image taken from Zotero website

Happy new year, everybody!

We’d like to start 2022 by looking back at our Sociolab Zotero Workshop from December 2021, hosted by our very own Anne-Marie Mölders, who is a research assistant in the Lab. We find Zotero incredibly helpful and if your new year’s resolution is to organize all your references, Zotero might be as useful to you as it is to us! Weiterlesen

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LaVaLi goes UKLVC13

taken from the UKLVC13 website

This September, the linguistics conference UK language variation and change 13 took place (virtually) in Glasgow, and our LaVaLi team had a blast! Over the course of three days, more than 100 linguists presented their research on language variation and change, sociolinguistics and dialectology, and received applause and feedback from their peers. It was super exciting to hear about all the new approaches and insights our colleagues reported on!

Of course, the LaVaLi team was in attendance – this was the first time we got to present on a whole smörgasbord of research happening within the project, including individual work towards MA or PhD theses as well as larger joint research endeavours. This blog post briefly summarises our poster presentations and talks. Weiterlesen

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The FOOT-STRUT Split: “Could” and “Cut” – Does the FOOT-STRUT Split Change over Time?

by Carina Ahrens

Do you say /kʊd/ and /kʌd/ or do you say /kʊd/ and /kʊd/? Listen to these sound snippets, can you tell the difference in the vowels of the two speakers (look out for the words book, just and mud)? In my BA thesis, I conduct a panel study, looking at the FOOT-STRUT split of one speaker over three time points. Weiterlesen

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