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Erica Benson's Research Projects

Wisconsin Englishes Project

The Wisconsin Englishes Project brings together linguists from all over the state (including Erica J. Benson, UW Eau Claire, Joseph Salmons, UW Madison; Thomas Purnell, UW Madison; Joan Hall, UW Madison; Luanne von Schneidemesser, UW Madison; and Gregory Iverson, UW Milwaukee). The primary aims of the project are (1) to gather data on the varieties of English spoken in Wisconsin as well as perceptions/attitudes toward those varieties, and (2) to promote awareness of Wisconsin’s ever more intriguing linguistic diversity through public presentations and through the creation of web-based materials for use in K-12 and university settings.

Support for this project provided by the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures and the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

Wisconsin Dialects Project

Language Variation and Change in West-Central Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Dialects Project is an on-going faculty/student collaborative research project at UWEC. The primary aims are the project are (1) to investigate the phonological and grammatical characteristics of the varieties of English spoken in Wisconsin with a focus on west-central Wisconsin and (2) to study the progress and process of language change. The northern two-thirds of Wisconsin has received little attention in dialect research projects (with the notable exception of the Dictionary of American Regional English), so one goal is to document the local vowel systems. A second goal is to investigate the extent to which some ongoing changes in vowel pronunciation in and around Wisconsin, i.e. the Low-Back Vowel Merger, also known as the caught/cot merger, and the Northern Cities Shift, is affecting local dialects. A third goal is to investigate the progress of grammatical changes, e.g. positive anymore (Anymore gas is so expensive) from neighboring dialect areas.

Generous funding for this project was provided by a Faculty/Student Research Collaboration Differential Tuition Grant from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Wisconsin Folk Linguistics Project

The primary aim of the Wisconsin Folk Linguistics Project is to investigate the language attitudes of life-long residents of Wisconsin toward the varieties of English spoken in and around this area. The initial focus of the project has been on discovering the level of awareness of current ongoing changes in pronunciation in and around Wisconsin. Nearly all areas west of the Mississippi River have undergone a merger of the vowels in caught and cot, known as the Low-Back Vowel Merger, while cities in the Great Lakes region, including Buffalo, Kalamazoo, Chicago, Milwaukee and others, are experiencing a major change in the pronunciation of many vowels, known as the Northern Cities Shift.