A West Virginia University professor’s research is giving undergraduates a chance to study dialects within the state.

Kirk Hazen, professor of linguistics in the Department of English, has received a Research Experience for Undergraduates grant from the National Science Foundation to support this work. The grant, totaling $14,800, provides stipends for students working with the West Virginia Dialect Project, a project designed to study dialect diversity in the state.

The grant funds three undergraduate students who are researching how consonants, specifically “s” and “z” are spoken in West Virginia. The students examine how the “z” sound is changing over time by conducting interviews, processing the interviews with acoustic software, and statistically analyzing the data.

The goal of the project, Hazen said, is to explain how language works and how it changes in West Virginia. Social aspects such as age, region, and gender are often correlated with the changes. The Research Experience for Undergraduates funding provides research experience to undergraduate students.

Emily Vandevender is one of the students working with the West Virginia Dialect Project. She is a sophomore double majoring in chemistry and English.

“I tend to receive some skeptical looks when people hear that I work for the West Virginia Dialect Project doing linguistics research, but it has been an excellent experience,” Vandevender said. “It has given me the opportunity to balance out my studies, and also gain a better understanding of a field that I find fascinating.”

Kiersten Woods, a double major in English and Chinese, is also working on the project to gain experience and prepare herself for the future.

“[The WV Dialect Project] let me experience firsthand what collecting data for research is like, helped narrow my interests for when I apply to graduate school, and even prepared me for the research I’ll undertake in graduate school,” Woods said.

Margery Webb is an English and biology major partnering with Vandevender and Woods in the experience.

“Conducting research, as a part of my study of the English language, has opened my eyes to the varied career possibilities available to English majors who explore and incorporate different areas of interest into their academic studies,” Webb said.

For more information, contact Kirk Hazen, at 304-293-9721 or Kirk.Hazen@mail.wvu.edu.



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