Justin Craft had never taken a linguistics course before declaring it as his major. During his undergraduate study, he was given a structuralist syntax/semantics text to apply to a paper he was writing about the First Amendment. He enjoyed this exercise so much that it motivated him to change his major to Linguistics and Philosophy when he transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles.

He came to UCLA expecting to pursue philosophy of language and semantics, a general phonetics course would alter his expected academic route again. When he entered a sound booth in that phonetics course, his love of radio and the skills he gained while working in community radio and television production came rushing back. “I’ve been doing phonetics and phonology and spending my time in sound booths ever since I left the semantics/semiotics to those better suited at it than myself,” said Justin.

Justin’s research interests lie with speech perception, speech production, the link between perception and production, phonological learning, and phonological variation. Recently he has begun to examine sound change, specifically how sound systems change in languages undergoing language death.

According to Justin, his interests stemmed from “the realization that all the silly pulmonic clicks, weird vowel productions and impressions that I’ve annoyed people with my entire life (especially during childhood) are actually part of an incredible dense and meaningful literature about speech perception, phonological learning, and how we produce and process sound. As easy as it is to think that babies are just pudgy little goofballs who don’t know any better, they’re actually doing some incredible work when it comes to learning how to talk.”

When deciding between graduate programs, U-M’s faculty, lab facilities, and the display of camaraderie between students during his campus visit solidified his decision. The support provided by the department through funding didn’t hurt either.

“U-M gives students the ability to branch out from the main sub-disciplines of the field while still receiving comprehensive and grounded instruction in those sub-disciplines. The bonds between our department and others (anthropology, sociology, psychology, etc.) are very apparent and result in an atmosphere that encourages collaboration and stepping across disciplinary boundaries,” said Justin.

Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Andries Coetzee is Justin’s advisor. In Andries, Justin has found an incredible phonologist full of suggestions who approaches problems with a different mindset, allowing challenges to be reassessed and worked through.  “Andries is full of ideas and advice to ensure that I succeed, not only at my own research projects, but within the program as well. He’s a patient listener which is crucial for when I’m throwing nut job ideas out there from left field.”

Since coming to U-M, Justin has begun to think more seriously about the neural correlates in speech perception and how to translate findings from the psychoacoustic and sound change literatures into the neurolinguistics and neuroscience literature.

Justin is a Rackham Merit Fellow who would love to work in academia after completing his doctorate. However, above all else, he wants to be happy.

Find out more about Justin and his research.