18: Renee Kemp



Program and Year of Study

PhD, 5th year

Previous degrees and colleges

BA English Literature, Humboldt State University

MA Linguistics, University of Georgia

Where did you grow up?

Davis, CA

Where do you live now?

Sacramento, CA

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

The Arboretum

How do you relax?

Cooking, hiking, taking group exercise classes at the Y, and watching Korean dramas. Before I moved to Sacramento, I also enjoyed taking classes at the Craft Center. 

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

What was the last film you saw at the theater?

Finding Dory

Research interests

I’m interested in how adult second language learners acquire new speech sounds and words along with the types of information that native speakers provide to second language learners. For example, when a native speaker is talking to a second language learner they might speak more slowly or emphasize certain words – generally using a more careful form of speech. What lexical characteristics cause native speakers to speak more carefully, and is careful speech helpful for second language learners?

Dissertation title or topic

Lexical effects on second language acquisition

Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research

Careful speech is helpful for second language learners, but only in specific contexts. For example, careful speech helps learners recognize high frequency words faster. This is surprising because we might expect careful speech to help with the recognition of more difficult low frequency words instead. Rather, learners perform similarly on low frequency words whether or not they are produced carefully. Therefore, familiarity with the word helps learners make use of careful speech. Native speakers, on the other hand, perform better on high-frequency words in a typical non-careful pronunciation, because that’s the type of input that native speakers typically receive.

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

Professor Kathleen Doty’s “History of the English Language” class at Humboldt State University started my interest in linguistics, and it was with her encouragement that I pursued graduate studies. 

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

It’s not quite a scholarly text, but I wish I had written Dan Jurafsky’s The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu. It describes how languages and cultures change and interact through the lens of food. The book is also full of interesting facts, such as the origin of the word “ketchup,” which came into English through Cantonese, and it presents linguistics to non-linguists very well. 

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

I am interested in the work being done by Professor Robert Bayley (Linguistics) and Professor Jamal Abedi (Education) regarding the assessment of English language learners in K-12 schools. Currently, many English language learners without learning disabilities are placed in special education classes, while at the same time English language learners with learning disabilities go undiagnosed. Bayley and Abedi are working to develop effective assessment tools for English language learners with and without disabilities.

What’s the best thing about being a grad student?

Having a flexible schedule and the freedom to spend time researching topics that I find interesting.

What's the worst?

Answering the question, “When will your dissertation be finished?”

If you weren’t a grad student, what would you be doing?

Teaching English to adult second language learners. 

Finally, please ask yourself a question

How many languages do you know?

Linguists actually really dislike being asked this question. Linguistics is about the analysis of language and its structure rather learning a lot of different languages. Still, most linguists have studied more than one language. Some languages that I’ve studied include German, Japanese, Arabic, and Finnish. At the moment, I’m working on learning some Korean, so I guess it’s not too unfair a question after all…


—May 2017


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