Academically I was a little lost for the first couple years here. I was in communication sciences, but I wasn't grounded in the field," recalls communication sciences major Katherine Sadis. "I'm very average academically. I'm not an honors student — but give me a project and I'll show you what I can do. The entire experience has given me such a sense of confidence."
The ability to detect regional accents in small children is the subject of Sadis' research project: "Learning to Talk Native: Listeners' Perception of Speech from Three Dialect Areas."
"That (children) can physically reproduce the sounds when they are just two-years-old is remarkable," says Julie Roberts, professor of communication sciences and Sadis' advisor for the project. As toddlers, most children are still acquiring single words and are not yet able to string together complete sentences, so the possibility of detecting such nuances as dialect features in their speech has captured the interest of scholars in the field.
Sadis began studying accents while enrolled in Roberts' "American English Dialects" class as a sophomore. The following year, Sadis contacted the communication sciences professor to enquire about continuing her studies. "It's very unusual for an undergrad to seek a professor out," Roberts says. "I think she's incredibly ambitious and motivated."