Savithry Namboodiripad is a Collegiate Fellow in Linguistics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she will start as an Assistant Professor in Fall 2019. She earned her PhD from the University of California, San Diego, and her BA and MA from the University of Chicago. She grew up speaking Malayalam in Minnesota, and her research explores how language contact shapes language use, variation, and emergence, particularly in multilingual “post"-colonial and immigrant contexts. In addition, she uses experimental methods to explore syntactic typology, particularly in the domain of constituent order. Her teaching interests include linguistic discrimination and language policy, and she's currently part of a collaboration looking at issues of negative climate and harassment in linguistics. 

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 joined in 2012, which was my first year in my PhD program. 

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

I’ve attended the LSA Annual meeting pretty regularly (my favorite: the polar votex LSA meeting in my home state of Minnesota!), and I’ve recently become a member of CEDL. Also, I’m co-teaching a course at the Summer Institute in 2019 with Elaine Francis called “Acceptability judgments in syntax: theoretical interpretation and experimentation outside the lab”, which promises to be a lot of fun!

What are you currently researching/working on?

In my main area of research, I use experimental methods like acceptability judgments to investigate variation and contact effects in syntax. Right now, I’m working on a series of replications of experiments from my thesis work, looking at cross-linguistic variation in flexible constituent order. I also study contact effects in immigrant and recently-colonized contexts, specifically the pervasive effects of English on Malayalam, both in the US and, especially, as it is spoken in Kerala, India. Lately, I've been focusing on loanword (non)adaptation, as well as the status of non-Dravidian words in Malayalam.

Finally, Corrine Occhino, Lynn Hou, Anne Charity-Hudley, some excellent current and former students at Michigan (Hayley Heaton, Dominique Canning, and Marjorie Herbert), and I have been working on a Survey of Linguists and Language Researchers that I hope many of you have filled out. We have over 1400 responses, and we presented the results at the 2019 Annual Meeting. We provide some qualitative and quantitative findings to inform and continue ongoing discussions of how to prevent and mitigate instances of harassment and bias in our field, and we're working on prepping those results for publication now. 

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how language contact relates to language processing and change, so Creating Language by Christiansen & Chater has been a really great resource that I find myself going back to. I've also been fascinated by a series of studies by Erich Jarvis and his lab on neural and genetic correlates of vocal imitative learning, comparing birds and mammals. I can't explain it in a pithy way without visual aids, but I encourage folks to take a look at that work (or find me in person, and I'll excitedly tell you about it!). 

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

Linguistics is such an exciting field because data is everywhere! We get to find and explore interesting questions which often arise from the most unexpected places, and that is a joy and privilege. I'm still pretty green, but, for me, thinking creatively, trying to be kind, and finding generous, like-minded collaborators have made all the difference. And, don't be afraid of R or LaTeX -- it's challenging but really fun and rewarding! 

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

Linguistics is so interdisciplinary; we can be found in basically any department in a university. This makes it all the more important to have large, big-tent professional organizations like the LSA, which advocate for and bring together linguists from all over the academy (and beyond!). 

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

I'd like to highlight what a significant finding from our survey of linguists and language researchers: about 42% of respondents have been told that they weren’t linguists, or that their work isn’t linguistics. Not that there is anything wrong with disciplinary boundaries per se, but I think that our field could benefit from some introspection about what is gained and lost by drawing strict boundaries, and we can do more to ask who draws those boundaries and why.