Kelly Elizabeth Wright (She/Her) is a PhD Candidate in her final year at the University of Michigan. She identifies as a Black Biracial working class cis woman, an Afrolachian raised in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kelly is an experimental sociolinguist specializing in linguistic discrimination and its institutional outcomes. Her previous research includes a machine learning study of lexical racialization in sports journalism and a sociophonetic study of linguistic profiling in the housing market. Kelly is also an accomplished lexicographer, now serving the discipline as a contributing editor of American Speech's Among The New Words column. Download her CV!

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?  

2014. I joined so I could apply for a scholarship to attend the 2015 Linguistic Institute at the University of Chicago (I didn't get it).  

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

I attended my first LSA meeting (DC 2016) as a volunteer. At that meeting Sonja Lanehart invited me to a Committee for Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics (CEDL) meeting and there I found a thriving, inclusive, and supportive research community. Joining CEDL has been one of the most personally and professionally rewarding decisions of my life. Since then I have participated in all LSA annual meetings. I was a staff member and workshop presenter at the 2017 Linguistic Institute at the University of Kentucky. I was runner up in the 2018 Five Minute Linguist competition in Salt Lake City. I am a founding member of LSA Sister Society NARNiHS (North American Research Network in Historical Sociolinguistics), whose first Annual Meeting was co-located with LSA 2019 in New York City. I am currently serving as an inaugural member of the LSA Social Media Committee and as Editor's Assistant at Language, a role I've been in since 2019. 

What are you currently researching/working on

My current research is experimental sociolinguistic work on Professionalism. I am using ethnographic methods to understand what motivates Black people to shift away from their racialized varieties in professional settings. To study this, I've developed a new model of sociolinguistic interview, designed to capture metalinguistic awareness. Perceptual experimentation employing a sociolinguistic monitor task will determine how audiences perceive Black professionals using their racialized and standardized varieties. Results from both prongs will help us better understand how standard language ideologies are maintained; from the perspective of the user (a member of a population forced to switch to succeed) and from the perspective of the listeners (those who determine if that switch is appropriate).

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

Van Berkum et al. (2008) Neural Integration of Speaker and Message. This work demonstrates that as we parse language we are attending not only to the structural, but also to the social components of an utterance. It is a cleanly and ingeniously designed experiment, one that has shaped my best practices as a researcher. Too, I have found this paper useful in conversations with the public, as it transparently demonstrates different types of sociolinguistic knowledge we (language users) gain through the everyday operation of our innate linguistic systems. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?

One of the biggest challenges facing the discipline today is siloism. We maintain arbitrary distinctions between core and peripheral linguistic subfields and this distancing, in my opinion, weakens our science. Barriers to experience, insight, and skill sharing in our individual learning communities constrain development of ever-more-refined research questions, methodologies, and analytical tools in the discipline at large. From my perspective, I see siloism convincing linguists in the so-called core that learning and teaching about the work language does in the world isn't their responsibility. It is my hope that as a discipline, we can focus more on what unites us than what separates us, and can begin to use our power as a community to address the very real harms that linguistic violence enacts around us.

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

Gathering us together!! I don't want to pretend that the cost of attending the LSA Annual Meeting and its exclusivity aren't accessibility issues. But the work the organization does, with such limited staff, to secure a space for us to gather as a community of like-minded intellectuals should be commended. My life has been forever changed by the spaces the LSA provides for fellowship, and this is why I serve the organization; I believe in its ability to create equitable opportunities for us to joy in the scientific study of language.