At the University of Michigan, I am Professor of Linguistics, Director of the African Studies Center, and Senior Advisor for Africa to the Provost. I am also editor of Language, flagship journal of the Linguistic Society of America, and an honorary professor at the North-West University, my South African alma mater.
Early life and education
I was born in South Africa, and grew up in two small, rural towns (Ellisras and Thabazimbi) in the northern regions of the country. After graduating from high school, I enrolled at the North-West University in Potchefstroom where I earned a BA (1993) and MA (1996) degree in Semitic Languages, focusing on Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Aramaic, and classical Arabic. I was also full-time lecturer in Semitic Languages at the North-West University from 1994 to 2002. I earned a PhD in Linguistics (focusing on phonology, under the direction of John McCarthy) from UMass in 2004.
Employment at the University of Michigan
Since 2004, I have been on faculty in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Michigan, where I am currently a Professor of Linguistics, Director of the African Studies Center, and Senior Advisor for Africa to Provost.
A large part of my current research program is focused on the documentation of the phonetic and phonological patterns of Southern African languages, with a specific focus on Afrikaans (my native language) and Setswana. This research is being conducted in collaboration with colleagues from the North-West University in South Africa (Daan Wissing, Ian Bekker, Rigardt Pretorius) and the University of Michigan (Pam Beddor, Nicholas Henriksen, Lorenzo García-Amaya). Among the specific issues we have investigated is an ongoing process of tonogenesis in Afrikaans, voicing co-occurrence restrictions in the Afrikaans lexicon, the rhythmic properties of Afrikaans, the peculiar variety of Afrikaans spoken in Southern Patagonia, Argentina. On this latter project, see our project website. I am also collaborating with Ian Bekker (North-West University) on a project aimed at documenting the linguistic practices in Potchefstroom, a regional South African city, in the rapidly changing social post-apartheid social context. More information available on the project website.
The time course of the production and perception of coarticulation
In an ongoing research project, partially funded through an NSF grant, my colleague (Pam Beddor), and I are exploring the relationship between perception and production both at the level of the individual language user and at the level of the speech community. Our research focuses specifically on the fine-grained time course of coarticulation—how do speakers time coarticulatory gestures and how do listeners use coarticulatory information during speech perception? We use multiple techniques to explore these questions, ranging acoustic analyses, oral/nasal airflow measurements, ultrasound capture of lingual movement, eye-tracking, and more. Our empirical focus is on phenomena such as /l/-velarization in American English, and anticipatory nasalization in both American English and Afrikaans.
My dissertation research as well as my research for roughly the first decade post-PhD focused on phonological variation, and on how constraint-based models of phonological grammar (Optimality Theory and Harmonic Grammar) can be extended to account for variable phenomena. A particular focus of this research is on how grammatical and non-grammatical factors that contribute to variation can be combined into a single integrated model of phonological competence.
I am an active member of the University of Michigan community, and regularly serve on committees both in the Linguistics Department and in the University more broadly (College Curriculum Committee, Provost’s Faculty Advisory Committee, Executive Committee of the African Studies Center, etc.). I am also an active member of the Linguistic Society of America (of which I am a fellow). I co-directed the 2013 LSA Linguistic Institute with my colleague, Robin Queen, and served for two years as chair of Program Committee for the Annual Meeting of the LSA. I am also serving as Editor of the LSA’s flagship journal, Language, for a six-year period (2017-2022).