My research is interdisciplinary, drawing on theories and methods from quantitative, qualitative and experimental traditions to address fundamental questions about the relationship between language and society. I focus in particular on how people produce and perceive socially meaningful patterns of variation in language, with a special interest in language as it relates to the construction and representation of gender, sexuality and national belonging. I have experience using a variety of different sociolinguistic research methods, including variationist, interactional, experimental, and ethnographic approaches. I have conducted field research in Israel, South Africa, the United States and the UK, and have published on studies related to language variation and change, language style, language and identity, and sociolinguistic cognition, among other topics.
Language, Selfhood and Belonging
I have a longstanding interest in the relationship between language and people’s sense of self and their feelings of belonging: how speaking a language in a particular way gets bound up with what it means to “belong” to a particular community or place. This was the topic of my previous research in Israel, where I explored the relationship between gender, sexuality and national identity and how that relationshiop played out through language. This is also the subject of more recent work I have done with Stamatina Katsiveli exploring the sociolinguistics of selfhood among queer men in Greece (see my plenary talk at the Sociolinguistics Symposium in 2022) and research that I conducted with Tommaso Milani and Roey Gafter looking at sexuality and discourses of citizenship in Israel and Palestine. From 2015-2019, I also led a British Academy funded project (with Tommaso Milani and Quentin Williams) looking at representations of gender and sexuality in the English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa print media in South Africa. Prior to this, I conducted collaborative work with Paul Baker on gender and ethnicity in the UK, and with Ian Bekker on language and gender ideologies among White English- and Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. See my publications for further details.
Accent Bias in Britain
Since 2017, I have been the Principal Investigator on the Accent Bias in Britain project (funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council; Co-Investigators: Devyani Sharma, Dominic Watt and Christina Perry).
The project aims to explore the relationship between accent and life outcomes in the UK. We do this by examining the extent to which accent interferes with a listener’s ability to objectively evaluate a job candidate’s suitability for employment. Bringing together insights from sociolinguistics, social psychology and labour market economics, the project involves a range of different experimental studies designed to identify the presence and impact of accent bias in the real world. We have also developed tools and training materials to help tackle accent bias in different professional contexts. For further details about the project and our findings, see the Accent Bias Britain website.
Perception and Social Cognition
I am very interested in how variation comes to be associated with social meaning, and what these perceptual patterns can tell us about the mechanism of social cognition. This was the topic of my NWAV plenary in October 2018. I have published a number of studies on this topic over the years, including work on the role of stereotypes in sociolinguistic processing, on the functioning of the sociolinguistic monitor (with Sue Fox), and on salience across different levels of linguistic structure (with Isa Buchstaller). See my publications for further details.
Language Variation in London
Over the past five years, I have also been examining patterns of phonological change in the London area. This research has included an examination of the spread of “uptalk” in London, and how the use of this feature is perceived in the region. I am also conducting research with Sophie Holmes-Elliott on /s/-variation in London and on the changing shape of the London vowel system, looking at how both of these patterns relate to current social class formations in the UK. See my publications for further details.