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Research foci

Below is a snapshot of what I research.
For all full papers, see my CV with downloadable links.

Image of the LaVaLi project logo

LaVaLi Project

Language Change across the Lifespan: LaVaLi 

I am a member of the LaVaLi team in the Sociolinguistics Lab at the University of Duisburg-Essen, which is a project that investigates how people's speech changes over the course of their lifetimes, especially in post-adolescence. Our data features recordings at between two and three time points from speakers from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. For more, visit the LaVaLi website, and be sure to check out the LaVaLi blog, which highlights recent work from our team members. 

Grama, James, Johanna Mechler, Lea Bauernfeind, Mirjam E. Eiswirth, & Isabelle Buchstaller. 2023. Post-educator relaxation in the U-shaped curve: Evidence from a panel study of Tyneside (ing). Language Variation and Change, 1-26.

Bauernfeind, Lea, Carina Ahrens, & James Grama. 2023. Change across the lifespan in GOAT: Evidence from a panel study of Tyneside English. In Radek Skarnitzl & Jan Volín (eds.) Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Phonetic Science (pp. 2064-2068). Guarant International.

Grama, James, Mirjam E. Eiswirth, & Isabelle Buchstaller. 2023. Tracking creak from early to late adulthood: A panel study from the North East of England. In Radek Skarnitzl & Jan Volín (eds.) Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Phonetic Science (pp. 2049-2053). Guarant International.

Mechler, Johanna, James Grama, Lea Bauernfeind, Mirjam Eiswirth & Isabelle Buchstaller. 2022 Towards an empirically-based model of age graded behaviour: Trac(ing) linguistic malleability across the entire adult life-span. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 28(2): 101-110. 

Image of rooftops in Sydney, Australia

Sydney Rooftops

Variation and change in a diverse society: Sydney Speaks

I'm affiliated with the Sydney Speaks project which aims to capture the influence of migrant groups in Australia's largest and most ethnically and linguistically diverse city, Sydney. Using a unique and highly regimented corpus of recorded conversational interviews, we investigate how Sydney English has changed, who has been instrumental in those changes, and how social factors and social networks play a role in those changes. For more, visit the Sydney Speaks website, and see our papers and talks below.

Travis, Catherine E., James Grama & Benjamin Purser. 2023. Stability and change in (ing) in Australian English: Ethnic and grammatical variation over time in Australian English. English World Wide.

Grama, James, Catherine E. Travis, & Simon Gonzalez. 2021. Ethnic variation in real time: Change in Australian English diphthongs. In Hans Van de Velde, Nanna Haug Hilston and Remco Knooihuizen (eds.) Language Variation – European Perspectives VIII: Papers from the Tenth International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE 10), Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, June 2019. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Jon Benjamins, 291–314.


Grama, James, Catherine E. Travis, & Simon Gonzalez. 2020. Ethnolectal and community change ov(er) time: Word-final (er) in Australian English. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 40(3): 346–368. 

Purser, Benjamin, James Grama, Catherine E. Travis. Australian English over time: Using sociolinguistic analysis to inform dialect coaching. Voice and Speech Review, 14(3): 269–291.

Grama, James, Catherine E. Travis, & Simon Gonzalez. 2019. Initiation, progression, and conditioning of the short-front vowel shift in Australia. In Sasha Calhoun, Paola Escudero, Marija Tabain & Paul Warren (eds.), Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Melbourne, Australia 2019, 1769-1773.

Grama, James, Simon Gonzalez, & Catherine E. Travis. 2018. Phonological conditioning in rotation of short-front vowels in Australian English. Poster presented at 17th Speech Science and Technology Conference, Sydney, NSW, Australia, December 2018.

Travis, Catherine E., James Grama, & Simon Gonzalez. 2017. General extenders over time in Sydney English: from ‘or something’ to ‘and stuff’. Paper presented in Language, Variation and Change, Australia 3, pre-conference session at Australian Linguistic Society 2017, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia, December 2017.

A picture of "The Mokes" (Nā Mokulua)

View of Nā Mokulua ("The Mokes") from the top of the Pillboxes trail off the windward coast of O‘ahu

Creoles and Englishes: Variation in Hawai‘i

I work on language varieties spoken in Hawai‘i. This includes the local creole (known to linguists as Hawai‘i Creole, and to Locals as Pidgin). By comparing recordings with Pidgin speakers recorded in the 1970s with speakers recorded in the 2000s, my work has demonstrated that Pidgin has undergone radical phonetic changes. What's more, these changes appear to be linked with the use of Pidgin morpho-syntactic forms, such that speakers who speak "heavier" Pidgin produce more canonically Pidgin-like vowels. For more, check out my dissertation, and watch this space for upcoming articles.

Grama, James. Hawaiʻi Creole. To appear. In Kingsley Bolton (ed.) The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of World Englishes. (accepted 4 November 2021). PREPRINT.

Grama, James. 2023. Change over time in [ɛ] and [æ] in Hawaiʻi Creole. In Radek Skarnitzl & Jan Volín (eds.) Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Phonetic Science (pp. 3010-3014). Guarant International.

Grama, James. 2022. Managing legacy vowel data in a sociophonetic study of language variation and change. In Andrea L. Berez-Kroeker, Bradley McDonnell & Eve Koller (eds.), The Open Handbook of Linguistic Data Management. The MIT Press.

Grama, James. 2015. Variation and change in Hawai'i Creole vowels. PhD dissertation. University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

My work also focuses on the varieties of English spoken in Hawai‘i. I'm part of a broader team of researchers whose research is focused on how sounds vary systematically throughout the islands. To find out more about the project, check out our publications below!

Kirtley, M. Joelle, James Grama, Katie Drager, & Sean Simpson. 2016. An acoustic analysis of the vowels of Hawaiʻi English. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 46(1): 79–97

Drager, Katie, M. Joelle Kirtley, James Grama, & Sean Simpson. 2013. Language variation and change in Hawaiʻi English: KIT, DRESS and TRAP. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 19(2): 41–50.

And below is a preprint of a book chapter to appear ca. 2024 in the New Cambridge History of the English Language (eds. Ray Hickey and Kate Burridge) discussing changes (both parallel and divergent) in the vowels (among other things) of both Pidgin and Hawaii English.

Grama, James, Michelle Kamigaki-Baron & Katie Drager. To appear. Pidgin and English in Hawaiʻi. In Ray Hickey & Kate Burridge (eds.) New Cambridge History of the English Language. (accepted 4 August 2021).

Of course, knowing what people do with language is only half the story. I've also done work that investigates how people's perception of language variation is distributed in physical space. Read about that here.

Drager, Katie & James Grama. 2014. 'dei tawk dakain ova dea’: Mapping language ideologies on Oʻahu. Dialectologia 12: 23–51.

Plot of the Low Back Merger Shift in a group of Californian speakers

Some California vowels

Chain shifting: Variation in California

I also work on my native dialect, California English. Together with Bob Kennedy, we have investigated what's called the California Vowel Shift (CVS) or, more recently, the Low Back Merger Shift (LBMS). This is the shift in which vowels we call TRAP (as in bad and cat), DRESS (as in set and rest), and KIT (as in sit and kid) lower and retract in California. Of particular interest to us is the role played by LOT and THOUGHT; we find that complete neutralization of contrast between these two sets is not a necessary precursor to the initiation of the LBMS. More can be found below.

Villarreal, Daniel & James Grama. Modeling social meanings of phonetic variation amid variable co-occurrence: A machine-learning approach. 2023. In Radek Skarnitzl & Jan Volín (eds.) Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Phonetic Science (pp. 3745-3749). Guarant International.

Grama, James & Robert Kennedy. Dimensions of variance and contrast in the low-back merger and Low-Back Merger Shift. In Kara Becker (ed.), The Low-Back-Merger Shift: Uniting the Canadian Vowel Shift, the California Vowel Shift, and short front vowel shifts across North America. Publications of the American Dialect Society, 104(1): 31–55.

Kennedy, Robert & James Grama. 2012. Chain shifting and centralization in California vowels: An acoustic analysis. American Speech, 87(1): 39–56.

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