The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

Dr. Helen Koulidobrova is an Assistant Professor in Linguistics at Central Connecticut State University. She holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Connecticut and two Master’s degrees: one in Theoretical and Experimental Linguistics, and the other in Teaching English to Speakers/Signers of Other Languages. The two main foci of her research are syntax and semantics of American Sign Language and acquisition of English and American Sign Language by hearing and deaf multilinguals. As the founder and Director of the Connecticut Bilingualism and English Language Learning Research Lab (BELL-RL@CCSU), Dr. Koulidobrova also conducts professional development workshops for pre- and in-service education professionals and serves on a variety of CT legislative workgroups dedicated to improvement of academic outcomes for English learners in the US.

Q: What are you currently researching?
 
The field of Sign Language linguistics is relatively young, and there is much to do. I continue being interested in syntax and semantics of American Sign Language; in particular, I have been concerned with the issues related to agreement, ellipsis, and the structure of the nominal domain. On the applied side of things, I investigate sign-speech (e.g. ASL-English) and sign-sign (e.g. ASL-Emirati SL) bilingualism — the former in young children and the latter in adults. I am particularly intrigued by the cases that may be considered atypical by  a spoken language linguist but are quite common for a sign language linguist: there is an entire population of ASL-English bilinguals that is learning the spoken language through the use of assistive technology (i.e. a cochlear implant), and  an entire population of foreign- born signers who had either never been exposed to a natural language before entering the US or enter educational institutions with knowledge of other sigh languages. Members of both of these groups are learning both ASL and (written) English simultaneously. I argue that examining languages of these populations allows us to discern among the contributions of cognition, biological endowment for language, the gestural system, and input, to name a few.
 
Q: What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?
 
There are so many! One of my favorites is Chierchia 1998 on the Nominal Mapping Parameter, which I read during my first year in graduate school. This was my first venture into the questions of parametric variation that involved both syntax, semantics, and phonology. The other memorable paper — and one that made me turn to theoretical linguistics after 9 years of language teaching — is Heather Goad’s work on prosodic transfer in L2 acquisition. While I did not actually end up working on prosody, it was hearing that paper at a conference that solidified my decision to seek a PhD in Theoretical Linguistics.
 
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?
 
I think one of the challenges facing the field is the one also facing many other academic fields: how to change the public image of a theoretician as a scientist disconnected from the reality of society in general and its microcosm — the classroom.  How do we as linguists put our knowledge into service? How can we make certain that the findings of our research are translated into legislative action?

Q: When did you first join the LSA?
 
I first joined the LSA during the 3rd year of my PhD program — in 2009

Q: How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?
 
As a student, I simply attended everything I could during the annual conference.  Since I became faculty, my level of involvement has changed: I have served on a few committees, such as the Status of Women in Linguistics, Public Policy, and Endangered Languages. This year I have also worked closely with the LSA on a language policy issue affecting K-12 children whose native language is a Sign Language.
 
Q: What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field?
 
The LSA allows fledgling linguists to experience the field: it brings together people who would never really wind up in the same room simply because they go to different conferences, read different journals, and tend to focus their efforts on different aspects of language theory. Also, the LSA — as a large body of experts — is able to strengthen any case an individual faculty might be involved in. For instance, last year I began working towards a change in interpretation of a language policy in K-12 schools by the US Department of Education. At the time, I was a ‘lone warrior.’ However, when the LSA threw its weight behind the issue (which also meant involving other related agencies), the Department was forced to listen.

Q: How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?
 
As a Sign Language researcher, I am excited to see more work on Sign Languages enter journals and conferences that are not explicitly dedicated to Sign Language research. This means a wider audience, more opportunities for interesting feedback, and more comparative work between spoken and signed languages, which, in turn, leads to a better understanding of the language faculty.

Q: What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?
I have been a faculty member for four years, and only now am I learning of the great variety of advocacy projects linguistics training enables you to be a part of.  My students have volunteered on language documentation projects in the Amazon, assisted with educational equity workgroups for English learners in the US,  tutored in K-16 institutions, served on organizing committees of activism-based conferences, i.a.  All of these efforts not only offer you a great experience outside of your computer (which is what much of your time is spent on) but also affect the larger community, thus providing further visibility to the field itself. Plus, it’s just fun.