Dr Mercedes Durham
I am part of the Centre for Language and Communication.
I am a sociolinguist focusing primarily on language variation and change. My research is broadly concerned with how linguistic variation (and with it, language change) is acquired, transmitted and viewed by individual speakers and across successive generations.
I have been at Cardiff University since September 2012. Before that I worked as a lecturer in English Linguistics at the University of Aberdeen from 2008 to 2012. I have also worked and taught at the Universities of York, Glasgow and Leeds.
I grew up and studied in Switzerland, getting my first degree at the University of Lausanne and my doctorate at the University of Fribourg.
- Language Variation and Change
- Native and non-native Acquisition of Variation
- Dialect shift
- Native and non-native varieties of English
I am interested in supervising doctoral projects broadly related to the fields of Sociolinguistics, and Language Variation and Change, particularly those from students with interests in the acquisition of variation, morphosyntax, and discourse, and in English, French or Italian dialects.
I¹ve talked about my research and linguistic topics more generally on the radio on several occasions (BBC Wiltshire, BBC Wales and Capital/HeartFM).
My research has also been discussed in newspapers and websites:
- The Welsh accent is officially lush (and that's according to genuine academic research) (Wales Online)
- 12 times people got a bit hysterical over the Welsh accent (South Wales Evening Post)
- #LoveIt or #HateIt? 'Welsh accent' tweets studied (ITV)
- The New Meaning of 'Cheeky' That's Got Americans Confused (Mental Floss)
My teaching in Cardiff mainly focuses on aspects of sociolinguistics and language variation and change, although I’ve also taught Quantitative Research Methods here and modules on phonetics, morphology, and first and second language acquisition elsewhere in the past.
In 2017-18, I'll be teaching on the following modules:
- SE1115 Developing English: History and Society
- SE1413 Dialect in Literature and Film
I work in sociolinguistics, the subfield of linguistics which examines language in a societal context: namely why and how different social groups (as defined by social class, gender, age, ethnicity, etc) make use of the linguistic resources present in the language(s) they speak to signal affiliation with or dissimilarity from other groups across various contexts.
My research focuses primarily on aspects of Language Variation and Change (LVC), and involves the use of quantitative methods to analyse linguistic features (predominantly morphosyntactic and/or pragmatic, but also phonological in some instances) to establish what affects their use.
As well as standard statistical methods, I often employ multivariate analysis in the interpretation of my data, using the methodologies of comparative sociolinguistics to find similarities in the speech patterns of different varieties.
I have worked a range of different projects, different dialects of English and different features (main projects listed below). Although there is considerable breadth and depth in these projects, they are all broadly concerned with how variation (and with it, language change) is acquired, viewed and transmitted either in individual speakers (native or non-native) or across successive generations.
My focus on the acquisition of variation and the fact that I have examined both native and non-native data makes my LVC research somewhat different from the bulk of studies conducted in the field, but, in many ways, understanding acquisition is crucial to understanding transmission (i.e. change) as well and is a fruitful venue for further research that can lead to more fine-tuned theories into precisely how language changes.
The various facets of my research each attempt to bring further insight into the question of how and why features that vary are transmitted and will, I hope, ultimately allow me to posit a cohesive theory which will allow us to better understand these processes.
One strand of my research focuses on the acquisition of sociolinguistic competence by non-native speakers and I have worked on non-native speakers of English in Switzerland. This is an important direction of research in a world where English is increasingly used as a lingua franca and the number of non-native speakers is steadily growing, as it is vital to establish which features of native competence are likely to be lost or modified. Moreover, examining how non-native speakers gain sociolinguistic competence can also help us to better understand why some features may turn out to be particularly prone to change in native speech as well.
Variation in Child Language
Another strand of my research focuses on children's acquisition of sociolinguistic competence. I have worked with Dr Jennifer Smith (of Glasgow University) on this topic, and our research (funded by the ESRC) has focused on a range of phonological, morphosyntactic and lexical items found in a dialect of North-East Scots in the speech of 29 children and their primary caregivers (i.e. their mother), and has shown that age, the complexity of the feature, and the social awareness of it, all impact on how soon children are able to produce native-like patterns, but that it is often earlier than previously reported.
Processes of dialect shift
I have worked on two separate projects examining dialect shift on the Shetland Islands. One (funded by the ESRC) with Dr Jennifer Smith focused on language change across three generations in the main town of Lerwick, while the other (funded by the British Academy) focused on changes in the dialect attitudes of Shetland school children over the past 30 years.
Non-canonical word order
I am also interested how non-canonical word order forms differ with respect to rates and use across dialects of English. While the use of the forms is linked to information structure, there are social factors at play in their selection as well and this is what I want to focus on. Having examined right dislocation forms in York, I intend to extend my research to other features and other areas.
Additional Collaborative Projects
- Quotative be like (with Dr William Haddican, CUNY Queens College)
- Grammaticalisation of the going to future form (with Professor Sali Tagliamonte, University of Toronto, and Dr Jennifer Smith, Glasgow University)