Christine Mallinson is Professor of Language, Literacy and Culture and Affiliate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and the Director of the Center for Social Science Scholarship at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Mallinson’s interdisciplinary research examines the intersections of language, culture, and education, focusing on English language variation in the United States. Among other publications, she is the co-author of Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools (2011) and We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom (2014). She is also the co-editor of Data Collection in Sociolinguistics: Methods and Applications, 2nd edition (2018) and the forthcoming interdisciplinary volume, Rural Voices: Language, Identity, and Social Change across Place (2018). Mallinson is the chair of the Ethics Committee of the Linguistic Society of America as well as a member of the Nominating Committee and the Committee on Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics. She is a member of the editorial advisory board of three journals, Language & Linguistics Compass, Voice & Speech Review, and American Speech, for which also she previously served a 10-year term as associate editor.

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

Q: When did you first join the LSA? 

I first joined the LSA in 2001, as a master’s student at North Carolina State University, in advance of my first-ever major conference presentation at the 2002 annual meeting of the American Dialect Society, held that year in San Francisco. With Walt Wolfram, I presented preliminary research findings for what would later become my masters thesis, which investigated the intersection of Appalachian English and African American English in a small multiethnic community in western North Carolina. That was it— I was hooked!  

Q: How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined? 

I am honored to currently serve as the chair of the LSA Ethics Committee. We are focusing this year on updating and revising the LSA Ethics Statement, which will continue to serve as an important resource and guide for LSA members as they engage in linguistic research. I also have the privilege of serving on the LSA Committee for Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics, with its critical work of addressing issues of diversity and inclusion in our field, as well as on the LSA Nominating Committee.

Throughout my career I’ve regularly attended the annual meetings of LSA and/or the American Dialect Society. As a graduate student, I attended the 2003 LSA Summer Linguistic Institute at Michigan State University, where I was honored to be the Language in the USA Fellow. Attending the Institute was an experience that really shaped and supported my career, and I have been thrilled to pay it forward through my involvement with LSA Institutes since then. Along with Anne Charity Hudley, John Rickford, and Michel DeGraff, I led a workshop on Engaged Scholarship in Linguistics at the 2015 Institute at the University of Chicago, and I’m looking forward to the 2019 Institute at UC-Davis!

Q: What are you currently researching/working on? 

Right now, I’m wrapping up an interdisciplinary volume called Rural Voices: Language, Identity and Social Change across Place, which I am co-editing with a sociologist colleague, Elizabeth Seale. The volume is exciting to me, because it brings together linguists, sociologists, and anthropologists—working across five continents and multiple languages—to explore culture, identity, and meaning-making among rural communities and to examine how language plays a role in social change across place. In our introduction and conclusion to the book, my co-editor and I frame our collection with the theoretical framework of Critical Rural Theory to assert that language is a primary vehicle through which the meanings of rural and urban are created, recreated, and contested, in communities around the world. Look for the volume to come out in print later this year! After that, I’ll be returning to my work on language and education with Anne Charity Hudley, with several projects in the works that aim to expand linguists’ focus from K-12 education to include higher education. One example is our forthcoming co-edited special issue, “Linguistics and the Broader University,” which will appear in the Journal of English Linguistics this September.

Q: How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?

Since I started in linguistics as a graduate student, I think the field has shifted to become more open to interdisciplinarity, both in terms of connecting across a range of linguistic subfields and in in terms of connecting across other fields outside of linguistics. When I attended LSA annual meetings back in the early 2000s, only a small proportion of papers dealt with sociolinguistics, and even fewer dealt with issues of application, activism, pedagogy, and the like. Nowadays I am happy to see that things have changed, and some of the best-attended sessions that I have seen in the past few years at the LSA have explored applied and interdisciplinary topics—such as the 2017 symposium, “Language and Educational Justice: A Dialogue between Linguistics and Linguistic Anthropology,” which was co-sponsored by the Linguistic Society of America and the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, and the 2018 LSA-sponsored “showcase” paper session and accompanying poster session called “Expanding the Reach of Linguistics: Collaborations with Other Disciplines and Beyond.”

It also seems to me that linguists are also now more likely to articulate the value of attending conferences outside our primary field. This shift in becoming more intellectually inclusive is promising, not only for academic reasons, but also because it can support efforts toward greater diversity and inclusion within our profession. Those who are traditionally underrepresented in our field often are interested in exploring the intersections between and across fields, and often value applied and education-facing work. By supporting these lines of inquiry, we can explore important issues that are central to language and society, while also building a stronger, more diverse, and more inclusive linguistics community.  We still have lots of room to grow and improve, but I think we are pointed in the right direction.

Q: What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?

My best advice for students, which I also give to my own students, is to study at least one other field besides linguistics, in order to broaden your academic horizons. I did this myself: as an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill, I took several linguistics courses but I ended up double majoring in German and Sociology, with a minor in French. As a master’s student at NC State, I not only took courses in linguistics but also in English literature, rhetoric, and composition. For my PhD, I enrolled in NC State’s doctoral program in Sociology and Anthropology, where my coursework focused on social theory, ethnographic methods, social inequality, and sociolinguistics. Each of those areas gave me greater breadth of knowledge and critical insight into identity, language, culture, and society. I also learned about how research methods are used in other fields, which proved very important later in my career, when I drew on this experience to co-edit the volume Data Collection in Sociolinguistics: Methods and Applications, now in its second edition.

I encourage undergraduate students to double major, or minor in another area, or enroll in an extra academic certificate program. I also encourage graduate students to take classes in other departments, attend or present at conferences outside your main discipline, or just simply talk to other scholars outside their field. Faculty members, we can do this too! Linguistics has so much to offer and so much to share with other fields, but we also have so much that we can learn. Being open to insights from outside our discipline can give us important historical, cultural, and social knowledge that is necessary for putting information about language into broader social and cultural context. It can also position us to have fruitful and interesting cross-pollinating conversations with other scholars, in which we come together to ask questions of common interest and explore new ways of answering them.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field? 

I think everyone probably says this, but for me it’s the LSA Institutes. When I attended the 2003 Institute at Michigan State University as the Language in the USA Fellow, a world of linguistic possibility opened up to me! In writing up my answers for this Spotlight, I went back and re-read my follow-up fellowship report that I had submitted to the LSA back in 2003. “Invaluable,” “enriching,” and “extremely rewarding” were just some of the ways that I described the formative experiences I had. In just six weeks’ time, I had taken classes with sociolinguistics powerhouses like John Rickford, Mary Bucholtz, Carmen Fought, Sally McConnell-Ginet, Miriam Meyerhoff, and Greg Guy. It was such an honor to learn from these scholars face-to-face, and it gave me so much inspiration to keep striving academically. I also got to know so many students from other linguistics subfields, from historical linguistics to computational linguistics, who I probably never would have met otherwise and who have been my friends and colleagues since. So, for me, the community-building aspect of the Institute was just as amazing as the intellectual experience. I really believe that the Institutes are one of the most important ways that the LSA helps pave the way for the next generation of scholars. For new students just starting out in the field, I hope to meet you at the 2019 Institute at UC-Davis!