STEM Shoutout: Dr. Caroline Smith

Linguist promoted to full professor


Dr. Caroline Smith, who teaches phonetics and phonology at UNM, has been promoted to full professor.


“I’ve been a faculty member at UNM since 1998, and have always been impressed by my faculty colleagues,” Smith said. “I feel very honored that my promotion recognizes my place in this great group of professors.”


Smith’s work focuses on prosody, or the timing and melody of language.


“For example, to indicate the end of a statement in English, a speaker will lower the pitch of their voice and lengthen the final syllable. Although the individual sounds in the words are affected by these changes, it is the structure of the sentence as a whole that determines where the changes occur. In other words, prosody studies language sound structure as it is organized over a larger scale than individual sounds,” she said.


“My research has focused on French, in part because it differs from English in ways that are well-suited to studying broader cross-linguistic questions. A collaboration with colleagues at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign resulted in a detailed comparison of the perception of prosody by English, French and Spanish speakers that highlighted the differences among these languages,” she said.


“In the last few years, I’ve also started looking at how second-language users produce prosody, and how first-language users interpret it. Some of this work has been in collaboration with Paul Edmunds, director of CELAC. What we find is that native users of English may weight information differently when listening to someone who is not a native speaker of English. Even though prosody is a theoretical construct, it can inform us about the factors that play a role in how people understand speech.”