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‘03 alum returns to teach about Hmong society, language

<ning to your alma mater to teach is an honor.

Eden Kaiser ‘03, a Japanese major, received this honor when she spoke at the Linguistics Colloquium this past Friday.

After earning her Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Minnesota within the last few weeks, Kaiser joined fellow Carls to present her dissertation on Hmong-American sociophonetics.

“It really does feel like home,” she said. “It was so nice, especially with the fall colors.”

For her doctoral dissertation entitled “Sociophonetics of Hmong American English in Minnesota,” Kaiser conducted both production and perception linguistic studies comparing Hmong-Americans and European-Americans.

Sociophonetics is where sociology and linguistics meet, “investigating speech sounds that hold social meaning for the speaker,” Kaiser said.

One example of sociophonetic identification Kaiser provided is “Valley Girl” English, in which speakers use words like “tubular.”

Word choice shows obvious social identification choices by the speaker, while vowel pronunciation is harder to notice.

Focusing on the acquisition of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, a dialectal chain shift in pronunciation that has spread around the Great Lakes region over time, Kaiser investigated whether the chain shift is present in Hmong speakers.

She explored whether Hmong-Americans use language “to establish, maintain, and change their ethnic identities” and posited that “tight-knit communities are slow in their adoption of the Shift.”

“There are subtle sociophonetic differences between English pronunciation in Hmong-American and European-American speakers in Minnesota,” she said.

Another Linguistics Colloquium talk is coming up on Oct. 14, given by Carleton’s Visiting Assistant Psychology Professor Julia Strand, who studies language processing.

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