We have many colleagues across campus who are part of the Linguistics community at the University of Michigan. This week, we present an interview with Nicholas Henriksen, who is a phonetician and sociolinguist in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

When did you join the UM? 

 "I joined UM in fall 2012 as an Assistant Professor in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department and have been excited to work alongside some of the most prominent linguistics in our field! I was previously employed as Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL. I graduated from Indiana University in May 2010 with a dual Ph.D. degree in Linguistics and Hispanic Linguistics."

In what capacities have you been involved in the linguistics department?

"I am especially involved in the Phondi discussion group that meets on Friday afternoons. I have presented my research on three occasions so far and have benefited greatly from the collaborative and cordial atmosphere of the discussion and feedback sessions. I also really enjoy learning about the research projects of my colleagues in Linguistics. There is no doubt that I have expanded the breadth of my knowledge in phonetics/phonology thanks to the fascinating research that is happening at UM!
On the teaching side, I have been pro-active in expanding the Spanish Linguistics undergraduate program in the Department of Romance Languages & Literatures by incorporating new courses into our major curriculum such as Spanish Sociolinguistics and Spanish Second Language Phonology. I have also recruited a total nine students from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program to conduct research under my supervision in the area of Spanish Laboratory Phonology and Spanish Sociophonetics. I collaborate with Sarah Harper, an undergraduate double major in Linguistics and Spanish, on /s/-cluster variation in Manchego Spanish, spoken in south-central Spain. Sarah presented our findings at the Linguistic Society of America conference in Minneapolis earlier this year."

How did you become a linguist?

"I always knew that I had a “good ear” for picking up on prosodic phenomena – intonation especially. As a child I very clearly understood the prosodic differences between my native Trinidadian English and the American English that I learned after moving to the United States. I lived in Spain for two years as an undergraduate and was quickly fascinated by the prosodic variation among the varieties of Spanish to which I was exposed. In graduate school I developed strong interests in the analysis of sound systems and the experimental method. When I learned about the Autosegmental-metrical framework to intonational phonology, things fell into place for me. I found the right model to test my hypotheses on Spanish prosody, and this was especially thrilling!"

What is your research about?

"My research focuses on issues in the phonetics and phonology of different varieties of Spanish from a theoretical perspective, employing laboratory methods to validate my claims. In broadest terms, I investigate topics in phonological structure at all levels of Spanish prosody: syllable structure, stress, intonation, rhythm, and voice quality. My most recent publications are based on the intonational structure of questions and statements in varieties of Spanish spoken in northern, central, and southern Spain, adhering to theoretical principles in autosegmental prosodic structure and sociolinguistic principles in stylistic variation. Specifically, I assess competing theories of intonational phonology and determine their compatibility with my empirical findings on Spanish and with those of the cross-linguistic literature. More recently, I have extended my research to the bilingual context, and to the field of second language rhythm in particular. As a broad goal, I ask whether current models of second language speech learning generalize to the domain of speech rhythm within the prosodic hierarchy. My publications appear in journals such as Language and Speech, Probus, Journal of the International Phonetic Association, and Journal of Linguistic Geography. I am co-editor of Interdisciplinary approaches to intonational grammar in Ibero-Romance, published by John Benjamins."

Anything else you want to highlight about yourself?

I was born in New York and moved to my mother’s native Trinidad & Tobago quickly after that, living there until age five. Thus, my first dialect is actually Trinidadian English, comprised of wide variety of phonetic/phonological phenomena that are, to the best of my knowledge, relatively unexplored. The prosody of Trinidadian English is especially unique, and speakers even use an interesting series of clicks for pragmatic purposes. I would love to incorporate this as part of my research program at some point in the future!