Get to Know Your Instructors: Cynthia Clopper

“Find the questions that keep you up at night and get you out of bed in the morning and then develop a research program around those questions.” Cynthia Clopper (Ohio State University) will teach the Laboratory Phonology Course at the Institute. In this interview, Cynthia talks about her current research on phonetic imitation as well as the role of variation in lexical processing. Continue reading to discover which college basketball teams Cynthia enjoys watching among many other interesting facts.

1. Can you please tell us about your linguistic background?
I earned a BA in Linguistics and Russian at Duke and then a PhD in Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Indiana. I spent one year as a postdoc in Psychology at Indiana and then a year as a postdoc in Linguistics at Northwestern. I joined the faculty in Linguistics at Ohio State in 2006.

2. When did you first join the LSA?
I first joined the LSA in 2000 during my second year of graduate school.

3. Can you tell us about the course you are teaching at the Institute?
I’m teaching Laboratory Phonology at the Institute. My approach to the course is to explore foundational concepts in phonology, such as contrast, assimilation, and neutralization, from an experimental perspective. We will read and discuss papers from the primary literature that use laboratory tools to understand central theoretical questions about the nature of phonological representation. The selected papers will involve a range of different languages and methodological approaches, including studies of both speech production and perception.

4. What research are you currently working on?
I have two major projects that I’m working on right now.

The first project is an exploration of the role of variation in lexical processing. Previous research has demonstrated numerous linguistic and social sources of acoustic-phonetic variation, including things like lexical frequency, phonological similarity, contextual predictability, speaking style, talker gender, and talker region of origin. With a few exceptions, this previous work has focused on one or two sources of variability at a time, but all of these factors are always present in human speech. For the last few years, my students and I have been documenting the ways that these multiple sources of variation interact in speech production and how those interactions affect speech perception. The results confirm that the interactions are messy and complicated, but that’s what I think makes human speech communication so fascinating!

The second project is an exploration of phonetic imitation. Previous research has shown that we adopt features of other talkers’ speech in both natural interactions and in asocial laboratory tasks. But this work also suggests that we are selective about which talkers and which linguistic features we imitate. I’m currently working on a large project exploring how different properties of speech are imitated in word repetition tasks as a function of where the talker being repeated is from, what the participants know about her, and what they are told to do in the repetition task (i.e., repeat or imitate). As in the previous work, we’re finding evidence of both linguistic and social selectivity in participants’ imitation patterns, suggesting constraints from a number of different cognitive domains on phonetic imitation.

5. What is your favorite hobby or pastime?
From November through March, my favorite hobby is watching college basketball, especially Duke, Indiana, Northwestern, and Ohio State. For the rest of the year, my favorite hobby is gardening. Fresh berries, herbs, and vegetables from the garden are so much better than store-bought.

6. In a parallel universe in which you are not an academic/linguist, what would you be?
I’d probably be a copyeditor, because I love proofreading!

7. What are you most looking forward to about Davis?
When I received the invitation to teach at the Institute, it was still winter in Ohio, so I was mostly looking forward to it being warm! But I also find that being away from my office can lead to great inspiration, so I’m looking forward to being inspired by students, faculty, classes, and conversations at the Institute.

8. Ice cream or Cake? Cats or Dogs? Quarter system or Semester system?
Cake, but mostly because of the frosting. Cats, although I’m allergic to them. Semesters, because they are better for student learning, although I prefer teaching on the quarter system.

9. What advice would you give to graduate students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?
Find the questions that keep you up at night and get you out of bed in the morning and then develop a research program around those questions.

Visit Professor Clopper’s website here.