Lal Zimman (FAQ)
[lɑɫ ˈzimn̩]

zimman at linguistics dot ucsb dot edu

Assistant Professor
Department of Linguistics
South Hall 3518
University of California, Santa Barbara
Lal Zimman



The following provide brief summaries of my current and ongoing research. I welcome inquiries about these projects and other topics related to language and trans/LGBQ communities, including those from prospective students.

1. Major reviews of trans people's linguistic practices
I recently wrote several overviews of research on trans people's linguistic practices and voices (see publications). To help with that process, I put together a Bibliography of Research on Trans* People & Language, broadly construed. I welcome additions to this list!

2. Trans language activism and reform
As part of my work conducting trans-inclusive and -affirming language workshops, I have also begun documenting the specific practices and overarching principles that trans language activists and reformers have been advocating for in English. Most recently I have begun more comprehensive review of strategies being used to subvert gender normativity and binaries in a variety of languages as part of collaborative work on the development of trans-inclusive language teaching practices. This work can be found in he inaugural issue of the Journal of Language and Discrimination and a shorter, accessible discussion intended for undergraduate students is forthcoming in Avineri et al.'s Language and Social Justice: Case Studies on Communication & the Creation of Just Societies. Recently I have extended my interest in trans language reform and activism to consider trans-affirming language pedagogy in languages with grammatical gender.

3. The voices of trans people on testosterone
My dissertation fieldwork involved following a group of 15 trans men and other trans people who were assigned female at birth and were making use of testosterone to masculinize their appearance and voices. I have published an overview of changes in these speakers' vocal pitch and how this relates to /s/ in Language in Society as well as more in-depth discussions of /s/ in Linguistics and Language and Masculinities. I am currently preparing a manuscript that detail the precise trajectory of changes to pitch in read speech and am currently processing interviews for comparative analysis. In all, this work provides strong evidence for a socially-grounded understanding of gender differences in the voice in which the body and identity both play complex, non-deterministic roles.

4. Building & archiving a diverse body of interview & interactional recordings of trans people
Since 2007, I have been conducting interviews with trans people in several urban areas in the western United States including Denver, San Francisco, and Portland. So far this amounts to approximately 100 interviews, and I am continuing to add to this body of data with a particular focus on diversifying the sample with respect to race, age, and gender identity. In the coming years, I plan to create a public online archive for sharing recordings of trans voices and other materials from interviewees who provide consent, which could be used for both research and community-based purposes.

5. Using creak to theorize gender beyond the binary
I am also working in collaboration with two of my colleagues at Reed College, Kara Becker and Sameer ud Dowla Khan, on an analysis of creak in the speech of young people with a variety of gender identities. The study is designed to explore both acoustic and articulatory measures and to test hypotheses about the distribution of creak across certain gender groups, including not only normatively gendered women, but also an array of transgender and gender non-conforming speakers. This has led us to consider different options for modeling gender in ways that include trans women, trans men, and non-binary speakers.

6. Stance and the gendered voice
The collaboration just described, which takes a quantitative approach to a stratified sample of sociolinguistic interviews, led me into explorations of voice quality and stance. Beyond thinking about who uses creak more, we also need to consider why certain speakers might use creak more than others. The discourse analytic concept of affective stance, which speakers use to position themselves in interactions, has been particularly useful for understanding the (gendered) meanings of creak). Rather than treating creak as iconically masculine, as some authors have done because of its low frequency, I focus on the potential for creak to be iconized affectively because of its association with low air-flow, low amplitude, and low/restricted fundamental frequency. Together, these characteristics allow creak to index a stance of disaffectation, an aloof persona, or a kind of emotional stoicism.

7. Body part terminology and trans embodiment
One of the discourse-focused arms of my research concerns the the construction of biological sex through the use of gendered body part terminology. In my chapter in Queer Excursions, I focus on genital terminology used by and in reference to trans masculine embodiment and the social work that accomplished by trans speakers' use of both innovative and normative lexical items. I also co-authored an article with Elijah Edelman in a special issue of the Journal of Homosexuality on trans sexualities, in which we situated these discourses within the notion of sexual productivity as it operates within homonormative sexual economies. The theoretical perspectives developed in this work informs my sociophonetic research in important ways, and I am currently building a larger corpus of data in order to consider changes in lexical preferences over time as a means of tracking changes in trans activists' linguistic politics.

8. Experiments on the perception of gender
I am in the early stages of a set of experiments designed to identify acoustic factors that influence the categorization of speakers as female or male on the basis of their voices. This is determined by using digitally manipulated speech and listener subjects who rated speakers whose voices had been digitally manipulated to have a range of different values for average pitch. Pitch (or fundamental frequency) is clearly an important marker, but a pilot experiment using manipulated versions of the same speakers revealed that the "cross-over point" at which speakers began to be heard as male rather than female had to be lower for speakers whose voices were more typically feminine in other ways (specifically, with higher formant frequencies and higher frequency productions of /s/).