Zachary Jaggers

[ˈzæ.kɹ̩.i (zæk) ˈʤæ.ɡɹ̩z]

PhD, Linguistics . Postdoctoral Scholar
Speech Perception and Production Laboratory .
University of Oregon

I care about communicating effectively and inclusively.

My specialty is applying social science and data analysis to help us understand patterns in language and their impact, with the aim of improving communication and, ultimately, relationships.

I’ve won awards for innovative research design and analytical angles, and for making this knowledge relevant and accessible to wide audiences and diverse stakeholders.

I’ve consulted on using language more effectively, and addressing social biases that language can carry. And I have a proven track record of leading and collaborating with team members.

Recent News

Skills

Research

  • Social insights and qualitative analysis synergized with the experimental and quantitative
  • Designed and executed 13 (+ ongoing) projects of diverse methods
  • Produced 4 expert publications, sole-authored and collaborative (more in progress)
  • Delivered 18 presentations at national and international conferences, and additional invited lectures, for expert audiences

Analysis

  • Track record of collaboration, bringing fresh angles to methods and analysis
  • Advanced data visualization, mixed-effects modeling, dimensionality reduction
  • Collected and analyzed data from 475+ participants in lab- and field-based studies; 900+ in online and corpus studies
  • Applying coding skills to automate and streamline the processing of language data — sound and text

Communication

  • Effective communicator, distilling complex ideas for diverse audiences and stakeholders
  • 6 public media appearances: journalistic writing, podcasts, news
  • 9 outreach initiatives: consulting, workshops, and public exhibits
  • Topic range and depth: how language works, analytical tools and technology, diversity and implicit bias

Leadership

  • Managed, trained, and mentored 11 student researchers and research assistants
  • Facilitated lab meetings and supervised grant-awarded projects
  • Optimized team workflow, data management, and research protocols
  • Taught 8 higher education courses spanning language analysis, social science, and (general/honors) critical thinking and research in broad terms

Projects

Identifying and Testing Social Patterns in Language

  • Research
  • Analysis

We all bring social backgrounds and identities to the ways we communicate. I use data analysis and experimental methods to uncover patterns in language that go hand-in-hand with social differences — even attitudes and ideologies.

Identifying and Testing Social Patterns in Language

We all bring social backgrounds and identities to the ways we communicate. I use data analysis and experimental methods to uncover patterns in language that go hand-in-hand with social differences: backgrounds, groups, and identities — even attitudes and ideologies.

Saying it the way “they” do

When pronouncing foreign place names or words borrowed from another language, English speakers might use a pronunciation that more closely resembles the original language’s pronunciation, or less closely resembles it.

For example, the “ear-rock” pronunciation of Iraq sounds more like how it’s pronounced in Arabic than the “eye-rack” pronunciation does. I’ve found that speakers who identify with a more nationalist ideology are less likely to use a pronunciation like “ear-rock”, using a more Anglicized pronunciation like “eye-rack” instead.

So, the more you feel like people from another place or who speak another language are different from you, it seems you might be less likely to sound like them — even when saying a word from their language.

I’ve found that this pattern is broadly true for other words, too: e.g., Chile (“chee-lay” vs. “chill-ee”), spiel (“shpeel” vs. “speel”). And I’ve even found the same pattern in an experiment I designed to test how people replicated the pronunciations of new words that they heard and were led to think of as originating from another language.

I accounted for lots of social factors that might have an influence: region, political identity, language background, etc. And nationalism seemed to be the best predictor. But I also found that people’s pronunciations were influenced by their attitudes regarding the specific place or language they thought a word was from.

Here’s a short video — finalist and runner-up, “Five-Minute Linguist” — about this. I’ve also talked about it on the Tell Me Something I Don’t Know podcast (starting at 29:13) and in more depth on the Vocal Fries podcast, as well as written it up for public interest. Click here if you want to read my full dissertation for more detail.

Language varieties

Of course, there are lots of times that language differences don’t mean something like attitudes or political ideologies. Often, the language you use just reflects what you’ve been exposed to most during your life. I’ve used data analysis to look at how differences of age, ethnicity, social class, and gender show up in the way we communicate

The more we understand that everyone has an accent — a language variety — the more we can work to communicate effectively with users of all language varieties.

I also use data analysis to track and predict language change, and inform people about its social dynamics. See this journalistic piece and news interview about recent internet language trends and how they came about.

User Experience

  • Analysis
  • Research

I test the experience of language users on both ends: I test how the way people say things matters to and impacts their audience. This can help us know how to accommodate diverse audiences and communicate effectively with them. On the other hand, it can give us insight into who might have a harder time appealing to certain audiences.

User Experience

It Sounds Nice When You Say It Like I Do

I’ve found that when a speaker uses a pronunciation of a borrowed word or foreign place name that sounds more like how it’s pronounced in its original language, listeners think of the speaker as more open-minded and globally oriented. (The social meaning they hear resembles the way I’ve found this pronunciation difference to correlate with nationalism.)

Pronouncing someone’s name can leave a deep impression, since they identify with it personally. I’ve collaboratively researched how hearing ethnic minority names mispronounced and Anglicized especially affects People of Color in ways that attune them to the social and power dynamics at play in name exchanging: A pronunciation mismatch is considered less polite and likable, while also more likely from a speaker of more power and capital.

Linguistic Stereotypes and Profiling

I’ve collaborated on work examining what acoustic phonetic correlates predict how someone profiles a speaker as sounding Black or White. We know people get discriminated against for how they talk. It’s helpful to know what activates these perceptions — whether they’re accurate or not — as a way to start addressing the ways they are subsequently discriminated against.

I’ve also worked with researchers studying how non-native accented speech is also discriminated against. Even when people can understand a non-native speaker perfectly fine, they will still say that they had a hard time doing so and may rate the speaker negatively along other dimensions. But since the majority of English speakers in the world don’t speak it as their first or only language, we should try harder to accommodate such speakers.

Diversity and Implicit Bias Consulting

  • Communication
  • Leadership

I help leaders and teams recognize one tangible way that implicit biases can be identified and addressed: language. Since everyone — yes, everyone — has an accent, I help address how some are treated as more standard or better than others. And I help balance this with the fact that language itself can sometimes be infused with the same biases we know we don't want our decisions influenced by.

Diversity and Implicit Bias Consulting

I help leaders and administrators recognize one tangible way that implicit biases can be identified and addressed: language. I’ve collaborated in creating and conducting interactive workshops to take actionable steps, through language, in recognizing privilege and addressing bias.

The way people speak can reflect many aspects of their social background and identity: their age, gender, ethnicity, social class, community, etc. Just like people may be discriminated against directly for such aspects of themselves, they can also be discriminated against for the way their language reflects these aspects.

And, on the other side of the same coin, language can sometimes carry biases, unconscious or otherwise, making people of certain backgrounds or identities feel uncomfortable and less welcome.

I help people navigate this relationship between language, identity, and bias: from awareness, to listening, to taking actionable steps toward inclusion through language.

Using Data Analysis to Model Speech

  • Research
  • Analysis

We need to know what the basic units of language are, how they interact with each other, and how to measure them if we want to use language effectively and be inclusive of the various kinds of language people use when communicating or developing language technology. I use data analysis to advance this cause.

Using Data Analysis to Model Speech

We need to know what the basic units of language are, how they interact with each other, and how to measure them if we want to be inclusive of the various kinds of language people use when analyzing language data or developing language technology.

Characterizing the sounds of language

I have experience contributing to this knowledge, like what acoustic measurements best help us distinguish between the “ia” in California vs hernia. This then helps us measure whether someone pronounces Tokyo as 2 syllables or 3, since speakers vary in this pronunciation. See open-access expert publication in Laboratory Phonology.)

I’ve also looked at the statistical distributions of sound distinctions, and at what these can tell us about language processing. For example, I looked at the English “sh” and “s” sounds and compared them to similar sounds in Basque, which has a sound similar to English “sh” but two sounds that are similar to English “s” and are distinct from each other. I found that the way the three sounds in the Basque system behave statistically suggests that speakers are doing a lot behind the scenes to keep them distinct from each other. (See open-access expert publication with the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences.)

Identifying meanings through patterns

I’ve also analyzed language text corpora for patterns of variation, in work I’ve presented at expert conferences. These patterns inform our understanding of language usage and meaning.

Sometimes optional features get used more as processing aids. People will use the optional ‘that’ in a phrase like “They said [that] …” if the phrase is longer and more complex.

And sometimes the ways and times optional features get used tells us about what the speaker means — people will say well before quoting someone in a case like “They said [well] …” as a way to signpost that the person being quoted was taking a different stance from the person they were talking to.

Learning and Processing Across Languages

  • Analysis
  • Leadership

Being able to communicate even if you don't share the same language background is so helpful. And, as much as people might say otherwise, you don't have to sound like a native speaker to do it successfully. I've collaborated and led research on this, and innovated new statistical methods to measure learning while basing performance less on native-likeness.

Speech Processing and Learning Across Languages

I helped lead a team of researchers on a multi-pronged NSF-funded grant, teasing apart the many cognitive processes at play in second-language sound learning and training.

One new angle I brought to our analysis is how to measure learners’ production of a non-native sound distinction in a more inclusive way. Instead of basing our analysis of learners’ productions around the way native speakers pronounce the sounds we were trying to teach them, I implemented a method that individualized the distinction measurement: That is, I helped our analysis account and accommodate for the fact that people were still learning some distinction, even if it didn’t exactly match the way native speakers pronounced it.

I enjoy designing experiments, streamlining protocols, and optimizing data management and analysis. I was glad to lead and train a team of student researchers — including the development of interactive public science exhibits and conference presentations about language learning and diversity. I also led multiple workshops on tools that lab members found very helpful for designing and implementing online studies and processing data.

Helping Others Achieve

  • Communication
  • Leadership

I apply my understanding of the importance of communication in a variety of ways. I'm well-reviewed as a consultant, such as having helped an artistic enterprise achieve notable praise in reviews. I'm known as an engaging educator, having led students in the development of compelling, grant-winning project proposals and interactive science communication exhibits.

Helping Others Achieve

I aim to help people advance their understanding of how communication works, how people communicate differently, and why it’s important to communicate effectively and inclusively.

Consulting

I’ve consulted teams and leaders on diversity, implicit bias, and privilege, including workshops, exercises, and panels with a focus on communication.

I’ve used my expertise to help choral artists learn the sounds of a wide variety of languages, leading to praise from New York Concert Review and from an international consulate who commissioned the ensemble, as well as from the ensemble’s own director:

“saved us a ton of time with really good results”
“simplified the pronunciation techniques and provided straightforward frameworks for understanding them”
“made things very clear, when even the composer and native speaker had some trouble articulating the strategies we needed to produce the desired outcome”

I’ve advised early career researchers from a wide variety of fields on pinpointing projects that are meaningful to them to pursue, identifying their relevance to broader society, and storycrafting compelling proposals that have gone on to win grant competitions.

Leading Learning

I’ve directed well-reviewed lab skills workshops, with a focus on hands-on learning combined with useful materials that attendees can refer to afterward.

“This workshop was super helpful!”
“Thanks for sharing your awesome tricks!”
“Thank you so much for preparing materials for this presentation! They are so nicely organized and I’m sure I’ll go back to them quite often!”

I’ve played leadership roles in developing interactive science museum exhibits about language science and language diversity, with both members of the public and student volunteers attesting to enjoyable learning experiences.

I’ve taught 8 higher education courses spanning language, society, critical thinking, and research. I’ve been well-reviewed as an engaging teacher, making things accessible and tangible, and fostering a space for discussion and personal connection.

“always very helpful and provided tools for students to understand course material on a deeper, personal level”
“added a personal and individualized twist on it and gave unique, real life examples of each phenomenon”

Making an Impact

  • Research
  • Communication

I'm passionate about making knowledge accessible far and wide. I care about what I do, so I care about making it relevant for others too. I'm experienced at sharing what I learn with diverse audiences, including public communications.

Making an Impact

I’m fascinated by communication, working to understand it more. I’m invested in it, aiming to help others communicate more effectively and inclusively. And… I like communicating about communication.

Here’s a list of media appearances:

We call workers ‘essential’ — but is that just referring to the work, not the people?, requested by editors at The Conversation: about disconnects during the COVID-19 pandemic between labels calling people ‘essential’ and their level of risk while working

3 Internet Language Trends from 2019, Explained, requested by editors at The Conversation: about language innovations and how they spread.

Between Iraq and a Hard Place, Vocal Fries podcast: discussing my doctoral research about English speakers pronouncing foreign place names and borrowed words more or less like how people from those places do, and how this can reflect ideologies of nationalism and assimilationism.

Your Political Views Can Predict How You Pronounce Certain Words, published by PBS: public article based on my doctoral research.

A Political Ideology with an Accent, presentation for the Linguistic Society of America’s Five-Minute Linguist competition: presented an infographic video of my research and won runner-up.

You Say ‘Eye-Rack’, I Say ‘Ear-Rock’, Tell Me Something I Don’t Know podcast: talked about my doctoral research as a guest and won the live audience vote.

Expert Publications

2019. Moments of moments: Acoustic phonetic character and category variability of the Basque three-sibilant contrast. Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Melbourne, Australia. (w/ Melissa Baese-Berk) [open access]

2018. Evidence and characterization of a glide-vowel distinction in American English. Laboratory Phonology 9(1), 3. [open access]

2015. A constraint-shifting account of loanword adaptation: Evidence from the early stages of dissemination. Penn Working Papers in Linguistics 21(1). [open access]

2015. Influence of suprasegmental features on perceived ethnicity of American politicians. Proceedings of the 18th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Glasgow, UK. (w/ Nicole Holliday) [open access]