For graduate student Justin Craft, attending community college had a lasting impact on his life—not only by instilling self-confidence but also by providing a foundation for his later interest in Linguistics and, specifically, phonetics.
Justin grew up in Long Beach, California, and received his Associates degree from Long Beach City College in radio and television production. While there, he briefly managed the student radio station, KLBC.
“I found out about linguistics through an English class I took at LBCC and was really drawn to syntax/semantics/philosophy of language,” says Justin, who later transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles as a linguistics and philosophy major. “Once I arrived at UCLA and realized that a phonetics lab sound booth was just a radio studio without a transmitter, I switched over to phonetics and phonology and haven't looked back.”
The familiarity of a recording environment in his first days in the field definitely made phonetics/phonology stand apart, recalls Justin, who went on to complete both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in linguistics at UCLA. After a period working for Google in Mountain View, California, with the speech data operations team, Justin set his sights on Michigan.
“I applied to U-M because I thoroughly enjoyed the Summer Language Institute in 2013, and because my advisor at UCLA spoke very highly of the work done by faculty members Andries Coetzee and Pam Beddor,” says Justin.
Today, Professor Beddor and faculty member Jon Brennan serve as academic advisors for Justin, whose research broadly focuses on how the social expectations of listeners shape their perceptual experiences with their interlocutors, or conversation partners. Some of this work—conducted in collaboration with fellow graduate students Dom Bouavichith and Tamarae Hildebrandt, Linguistics alum Ian Calloway, former postdoc Stephen Tobin, and Pam Beddor—has centered around the trading relationships among voice characteristics (formant spacing and f0), sibilant acoustics (peak frequency) and social identity (cued visually or contextually).
“My dissertation takes on the same broad topic with different linguistic variables and centers on illusory percepts, percepts for which there is no congruent acoustic signal for listeners to rely on,” explains Justin. “Going forward, I'm really interested in creating a formal computational model that attempts to understand how social cognition and the language faculty interact while respecting assumptions like modularity and information encapsulation.”
Important milestones for Justin have been publishing in the Annual Review of Linguistics with fellow graduate student Kelly Wright, alum Rachel Weissler, and professor Robin Queen, as well as presenting at the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS) with the co-authors (Bouavichith et al.) noted above.
Outside of Linguistics, Justin is involved in the Graduate Employees Organization on campus and loves the work they do. He is also a big fan of the soccer club AFC Ann Arbor and is hopeful that they'll play a full season this summer.
Most importantly, however, during the pandemic in late 2020, Justin married fellow linguist Tamarae Hildebrandt, an event that in his words “is the best thing that's ever happened to me.”