MaryEllen Garcia is a third-generation Mexican American who was the first in her family to attend college. She was faculty in Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas from 1988-2012 and was a Member of the Professional Staff at the Southwest Regional Lab doing research in education and linguistics prior to that appointment.  She holds a B.A. in Spanish from Occidental College, an M.A. in Hispanic Linguistics from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Georgetown University.  Her sociolinguistic research on the English and Spanish of Mexican Americans is based primarily on her own fieldwork in two Texas cities: El Paso and San Antonio. Her publications examine variability in word order, word choice and change in the Spanish of bilingual speakers; code switching; and analysis of the argot known as Pachuco caló. During her 24 years at UTSA she taught courses in Spanish language skills, Spanish linguistics, general linguistics and gender and language. Over the years she served UTSA as a member or chair of various university committees and mentored students in the MA Program in Spanish as a Graduate Advisor.

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

When did you first join the LSA?

I first joined the LSA in the summer of 1971 at the LSA Institute at SUNY Buffalo. I had just completed my M.A. in Hispanic Linguistics from Indiana University and knew I wanted to learn more about linguistics. The Institute introduced me to many new areas of research and the scholars who were leading them. I even made a connection there that led to my first university position--as a lecturer that same year in linguistics and ESL at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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

The 1971 Institute was the first of many that attended as a student in the 70’s and later as university faculty in the 80’s through 2000’s. I also became a regular at the LSA’s Winter Meetings during that time. It was at a Summer Institute that I was appointed to serve on the Committee of Women in Linguistics (COSWL - this committee is now known as the Committee on Gender Equity in Linguistics - COGEL) in the 90’s and then to serve as the first Chair of the Committee on the Status of Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics in the mid-90’s. As CEDL Chair I organized several sessions at the Institutes and at Winter Meetings related to issues important to ethnic minorities in the field.

Importantly, due to my attendance at those LSA Institutes and Winter Meetings, I got a chance to study and work with linguists who were already well-established. Socializing informally at the summer Institutes with professors and the Institute’s visiting scholars meant that I got to know them as people. Those relationships sometimes became the friendships and mentorships which are so important to students and junior scholars still finding their way in grad school and academe.

How have you been spending your time since retiring?

Retiring from my university position has not only allowed me more leisure time for personal interests, such as reading memoirs and biographies, singing in a chorale, attending courses in film and the like, but also has led to applying my studies in linguistics to translation. In 2014 & 2016 I volunteered with a local political group to translate a candidate’s platform statements from English to Spanish, which then were put up on his website. I found that I really enjoyed the challenges of capturing the message intended by the writer without distorting it. I also became appalled how many bad translations are out there, even those contracted for by local utility companies here in Southern California. So far I’ve hesitated to begin doing this for pay because it would eat into my free time, but it’s on my mind.

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

I love the fact that modern technology has given the field of sociolinguistics so many more tools to apply to research analysis and paper presentations. I only hope that those who do quantitative research take the time to truly understand how these innovative applications really work to explain linguistic phenomena, particularly statistics programs that make certain assumptions about the data set. I’m not saying that I could explain the latest models, by any means. I’m simply remembering attending research papers by authors who would simply plug in a program and would present numerical results  without offering an analysis of how they explained the data.

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

As I said in my previous response, one of the more important services that the LSA provides is give students and junior faculty the opportunity to meet and network with others in the field, not only with professors but also with peers who will later be their colleagues, whether in academe, in research labs or in private business. To provide  help to do this, the LSA offers younger scholars travel money and scholarships for attendance at Winter Meetings and Institutes.

Apart from its networking function, it is a nationally visible organization that promotes the study of language in its various sub-disciplines, offering members platforms such as its Winter Meetings for their research papers and poster presentations. Further, it challenges scholars to meet rigorous standards when their papers are submitted to and accepted for publication in Language, which often results in seminal articles in the field. 

Is there anything else you'd like to say to the LSA membership as a whole?

I think that the profession needs to take mentorship very seriously, whether students eventually go into university teaching and service or not. I think that workshops such as  how to interview for jobs, what to expect after submitting articles for publication, and what demands to expect in the work place, to name a few, are essential. While graduate school does a good job of conveying linguistic content and preparing scholars for positions at research institutions, in general very little is done about preparing teachers for junior/community colleges, private liberal arts or state colleges, or real-world, service or commercial work. And, to go a step further, what happens when faculty seek advancement at their own institutions? The demands of university administrators are very different from those of teaching and research faculty. Are there opportunities that the LSA provides along the way for a “crash course” in university administration, or is it solely a sink-or-swim situation? Granted, no institution of higher learning or professional organization such as the LSA can do all things for all people, but such things need to be on our radar.

You can contact MaryEllen Garcia by email at [email protected].