Obituary for Wendy Herd (Ph.D. 2011)

Wendy Herd, a rising researcher of the production and perception of speech and its social ramifications, passed away, far too young, on August 11, 2020.

Wendy was born on May 19, 1973 in West Plains MO and graduated from the University of Missouri (English and French) in 1995. She then taught high school English, Spanish and French in Miller, MO and was responsible for the second language curriculum, a full-time job she held during most of her graduate career. Wendy became increasingly interested in the theoretical and empirical aspects of second language acquisition and went on to obtain an M.A. in English at Missouri State University (2004) and an M.A. (2004) and Ph.D. (2011) in Linguistics at the University of Kansas. After graduation, Wendy started a tenure-track job in the English department at Mississippi State University, earning tenure in 2017. The same year, she was also recognized as the Mississippi Public Humanities Teacher of the Year.

Wendy’s research was disciplined and expert from the start. Her M.A. thesis consisted of a thorough acoustic and perceptual analysis of close to 10,000 stimuli from 20 speakers (Herd et al., 2011), showing that speakers make small but systematic acoustic differences to distinguish words such as writer and rider, and that the perception of the distinction is driven by word frequency.

Wendy’s dissertation on effective training practices for adult English speakers who were learning difficult distinctions among Spanish consonants continued this ambitious tradition, using acoustic, psycholinguistic, and neurolinguistic methods to explore the acquisition of phonetic categories. Wendy’s choice of three phonemes (/d, ɾ, r/) differing in phonetic, allophonic, and phonological status across the languages allowed her to go beyond the traditional investigation of the difficulty of learning a novel sound in a second language. This study (Herd et al., 2013) provided the first systematic comparison of the benefits of different training methods, with participants receiving discrete training in either speaking, in listening, or in both. Perceptual training provided the largest gains for second language learners but production training (articulating without hearing one’s production) proved to be effective as well.

After her move to Mississippi, Wendy started exploring phonetic drift -- acoustic changes in speakers’ first language due to exposure to a second language. She also examined phonetic aspects of Southern English, culminating in a special session at the 174th ASA meeting in New Orleans, a special JASA issue, and an article in Acoustics Today (Shport and Herd, 2020a and b, respectively). Most recently, Wendy showed that a simple acoustic measure, Voice Onset Time (VOT), may serve as a sociolinguistic marker in Black and white speakers (Herd, 2020).

Wendy’s research made pivotal contributions in theoretical, applied, and methodological domains. Her approach was to seek converging evidence from language comprehension and language production, often examining multiple languages, understudied dialects, and second language learners. This research deepens our understanding of the relationship between speech perception and production and the acquisition of new speech categories, with pedagogical implications for language teachers.

Wendy had only just begun to hit her stride, with many ongoing and future projects. We will miss the unrealized academic contributions but, even more so, we will miss her individuality. Wendy will be remembered for her sharp intellect, her positive energy, her tenacity combined with a cheery disposition, and her unending strength and determination. Speech science lost a wonderful human being.

Wendy is survived by her husband of 19 years, Zac Herd, a daughter Breanna and son Jacob, a brother and sister, and her parents.

Allard Jongman and Joan Sereno
(a slightly shortened version of this obituary will appear in the fall issue of Acoustics Today).

Selected publications by Wendy Herd

Herd, W., Jongman, A., and Sereno, J.A. (2010). An acoustical and perceptual analysis of /t/ and /d/ flaps in American English. Journal of Phonetics 38, 504-516.

Herd, W., Jongman, A., and Sereno, J.A. (2013). Perceptual and production training of intervocalic /d,ɾ, r/ in American English learners of Spanish. TheJournal of the Acoustical Society of America 133, 4247-4255.

Herd, W. (2020). Sociophonetic voice onset time variation in Mississippi English. TheJournal of the Acoustical Society of America 147, 596-605.

Shport, I. and Herd, W. (2020a). English in the Southern United States: Social factors and language variation.  TheJournal of the Acoustical Society of America 147, 525-683.

Shport, I. and Herd, W. (2020b). Sounding Southern: Identities expressed through language. Acoustics Today.