Joe Kessler
Ph.D student, University at Buffalo Linguistics
UB Linguistics logo design by Alice Mitchell


Research

As a research linguist, I focus primarily on the intersections of community, technology, and language. My full CV can be accessed here.

My current linguistic research involves tracking the spread of digital linguistic innovations to spoken conversation. I am particularly interested in how the norms of specific digital communities might play a role as sociolinguistic variables in offline speech. Sociolinguists have known for decades that your language can reflect and shape your personal identity along lines of gender, race, class, and many other demographic features. My research seeks to find evidence to add digital community membership to this ever-growing list.

In other words, can someone tell what websites you visit just by listening to you speak?

My Qualifying Paper for the Linguistics PhD program at the University at Buffalo was a dialectology study of the use of general extenders -- short phrases like "and stuff" or "or whatever" -- through public messages on Twitter geotagged with user coordinates. I presented this research at the New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV) 43 conference in October 2014; the NWAV presentation can be accessed here.

In the past I have assisted the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana and the Seminole Tribe of Florida with their respective programs of traditional language maintenance. Although I am not currently engaged in any similar projects, using my skills as a linguist to help such communities preserve and maintain their linguistic heritage is very important to me as a researcher. I strive to be mindful that I am an outsider in these situations, and that it is not my voice which must be heard among a people discussing their language's fate.

As a linguist in any community that is not my own, it is my task to listen: not just to the grammatical forms that are of interest to my research, but also to the desires of the community members to whom the language truly belongs.
Joe Kessler, July 2014

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