Lauretta Cheng

Graduate student Lauretta Cheng grew up in Richmond, a suburb in the Greater Vancouver Area in British Columbia, Canada, with a large Chinese immigrant population. As a second generation immigrant whose family came from Hong Kong, Lauretta grew up speaking Cantonese at home and with her community members. When she reflects on her childhood, Lauretta attributes her experience growing up in a multilingual setting to her curiosity for languages. For example, Lauretta recalls quitting Chinese Saturday school in elementary school, having been strongly influenced by mainstream language ideologies favoring English, but ended up regretting this decision. When struggling to (re)learn Cantonese and other languages, Lauretta’s inquisition about language retention, language attitudes and processing truly sparked. 

During her first year of her undergraduate studies, Lauretta enrolled in an introductory linguistics and recalls instantly falling in love with the field, specifically its analytical, pattern-identifying, puzzle-solving nature. At the time, Lauretta was majoring in speech sciences and planned to pursue a career in Speech-Language Pathology or Audiology. However, after finding much interest in Sociolinguistics and Historical Linguistics courses and after learning about diasporic (heritage) multilingualism as a topic, Lauretta shifted her focus to these topics. In Lauretta’s own words, a turning point in her career was “when I found out there was relatively little research on heritage multilingualism at the time, and nearly none for heritage Cantonese in the Greater Vancouver Area.” During the remainder of her undergrad career, Lauretta participated in independent research and her honors thesis project focused on production and perception in sound change in Hong Kong and Vancouver Cantonese. 

Lauretta had a lot of remaining questions related to the intersection of phonetics, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics, which primed her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in linguistics. Lauretta was recommended U-M Linguistics due to the stellar research being conducted in the Phonetics Lab, run by Pam Beddor and Andries Coetzee at the time. Ultimately, Lauretta chose to join U-M Linguistics because she felt that the department could support the interdisciplinary research she wanted to conduct, as well as the department’s warm and supportive environment. 

Lauretta’s current research is on sociophonetics (or sociophonetic cognition), meaning the study of how people process and perceive speech in social contexts. More recently, she has focused on how the awareness of linguistic ideologies (e.g., stereotypes about how people speak) influence what people perceive (or think we hear). In her dissertation, Lauretta “looks at the idea of “Asian American/Canadian speech”, exploring what aspects of speech might be consciously and unconsciously linked to “sounding Asian”, then examining how degree of awareness and ideas about social stereotypes may affect speech processing and perception”. Part of what excites Lauretta about these topics is that because they are relatively new, “there is so much more we can learn about how speech perception works in our everyday lives and how it works in our minds”. Lauretta is advised primarily by Andries Coetzee and Jon Brennan.

Lauretta has been incredibly active during her time at U-M and in the last couple of years, she has published her honors thesis research on Cantonese sound change, as well as collaborative work advocating for inclusive practices when working with language experience data. Lauretta has also received numerous awards including the SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in 2018, the LSA Linguistics Institute Fellowship in 2019, and more recently the Rackham Doctoral Intern Fellowship, which has given Lauretta the opportunity to apply some of the skills she acquired in her doctoral studies to industry problems as a Research Analyst/Data Consultant intern.

Beyond linguistics and her graduate student work, Lauretta enjoys developing her personal style and curating her closet with a ‘slow fashion’ mindset. For her, this includes activities like sewing, altering, and upcycling clothes as well as thrifting and second hand shopping. Some other things Lauretta enjoys on her time off include:  playing video games (mostly simulation and puzzle games), listening to music, and trying new food (especially when traveling).