Georgia Zellou is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Davis and a 2017-18 Hellman Foundation Fellow. She received a BA in Linguistics and Anthropology from the University of Florida in 2005 and a Masters in Linguistics from Stony Brook University in 2007. After receiving her Ph.D. in Linguistics from CU Boulder in 2012, she was a lecturer and post-doc in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. She then joined UC Davis Linguistics in 2014. In May 2016, Dr. Zellou was a visiting research fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies and the Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing at Ludwig-Maximilians Universitat in Munich, Germany. Dr. Zellou is interested in many of the same broad questions as other researchers in Linguistics who seek to understand the cognitive representations and processes that underlie linguistic communication. As a phonetician, Dr. Zellou examines the ways that variation in speech patterns can tell us how sound systems in language emerge and change and also how phonetic patterns are used functionally and socially in communication.

The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

When did you first join the LSA? 

I became an LSA member in 2006, at the end of my first year of grad school. I first joined to get a subscription to Language. It is the only journal I still receive in hard copy, which is a treat. I started attending the LSA annual meetings around 2012.

How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?

I was a student-volunteer for the 2011 LSA Linguistic Institute at CU Boulder. In recent years, I have been regularly attending the annual meetings, both to present my own work to the broader LSA community and to hear about the latest research from my colleagues. I am now co-director, with Raul Aranovich, of the 2019 LSA Linguistic Institute which will be held at UC Davis. Our planning for summer 2019 is well underway and we are thrilled to be bringing the event back to California (the last CA Linguistic Institute was held at Berkeley in 2009). The things that make UC Davis an exciting place for the Linguistic Institute are also important themes for the LSA community, in my opinion. For example, the diversity of our students and the languages (and varieties) they speak aligns with the emphasis on linguistic diversity that has helped the field of Linguistics advance. Also, our theme, Linguistics in the Digital Era, is apt as we want to highlight the interdisciplinary strengths of Linguistics.

What are you currently researching/working on? 

Currently, I am looking at issues related to coarticulation, or articulatory overlap of distinct sounds in speech, to investigate the role of phonetic variation in speech communication. For example, there is a question of what it means to “hyper-articulate”: Does it mean produce sounds so they are as isolated as possible, reducing coarticulation, or does it mean to speak in a way that enhances how sounds are naturally produced in words, that is with greater coarticulation? I am exploring this particular issue in a couple of projects. In one project, we are looking at the role of coarticulation in word learning -- does enhanced coarticulation within words help learners (adult second language learners and infants) extract novel words in fluent speech? In another set of projects, we are looking at coarticulatory patterns in clear speech and in cases where sound changes are happening in different speech communities and how that influences patterns of coarticulation.           

How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?

When I started studying Linguistics, not many people really knew what it was about. This has changed. Now, students are more aware of the discipline and what it entails even before they enter college. There is greater attention to Linguistics research in the news media and in entertainment and there are more general-audience books that the public is reading. Hence, we have more students than ever specializing in Linguistics and then going on to apply it in their professional activities. I have seen our field growing rapidly in recent years. As a teacher, it is a pleasure to have more enthusiastic and knowledgeable students taking my classes. As a researcher, I am excited by the greater numbers of smart and curious scientists coming in to Linguistics.

What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?

I can offer one nugget of wisdom that helped me: seek good mentors. An ideal advisor is someone who can provide professional guidance in addition to research training. Sometimes, more than one person is needed to provide well-rounded mentorship over a period of time, so seek out multiple people who can help you reach your goal at every stage. I feel really lucky to have had stellar mentors. I received great support while getting my BA and MA. I had an amazing grad school mentor, Rebecca Scarborough, and then received fantastic support from Dave Embick and Delphine Dahan at Penn. To become a successful linguist, build a solid support system.

What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field? 

The LSA provides invaluable service to its members at every career stage. When I was a student, and then on the job market, practical information provided by the LSA about the nature of academic searches in Linguistics, interviewing, and what to expect in a tenure-track job was priceless in making the process less overwhelming. I see now that these types of resources provided by the LSA are being expanded to include workshops and lectures on various aspects of professional development. This is fantastic for linguists interested in pursuing academic, as well as industry, jobs. For me now, the journal Language and the LSA newsletters keep me updated on what is going on across the field. The LSA annual meetings are a place to get and give feedback to/from colleagues in other areas. The LSA creates a community that brings together researchers working in different places, subfields, or on different topics, and that facilitates the exchange of ideas and keeps the field evolving.