LENORE GRENOBLE is the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Chicago, where she is also currently the Department Chair. This month she will be the Ken Hale Professor at the LSA Institute at the University of Kentucky, where she will teach the field methods course, together with two speakers of Kalaallisut from Greenland. Her research focuses on language contact, shift and endangerment, and language vitality, fieldwork and documentation, with specializations in Slavic and Arctic languages. Her publications include several books, including Saving Languages (with Lindsay J. Whaley, 2006, Cambridge); Language Policy in the Former Soviet Union (2003); Evenki (with Nadezhda Bulatova, 1999, Lincom); and Deixis and Information Packaging in Russian Discourse (1998, John Benjamins) and co-edited volumes Language Typology and Historical Contingency (with Balthasar Bickel, David A. Peterson & Alan Timberlake, 2013, John Benjamins); Language Documentation: Practices and Values (with N. Louanna Furbee, 2010, John Benjamins); and Endangered Languages: Current Issues and Future Prospects (with Lindsay J. Whaley, 1998, Cambridge).

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 when I was a graduate student in the early 1980s. I saw it as an important part of becoming a professional linguist, and I wanted to get my own copies of Language, rather than having to go to the library to read it. I still have all those copies on my shelves, even though it’s available electronically.

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

I’ve attended the annual meetings whenever possible. I’ve been a member of CELP and chaired it for one year, I was a member of the Awards committee for three years, and I taught in the Institute when it was here in Chicago in 2015, working alongside Tony Woodbury who was the Hale Professor that year, that was a real honor. Now I am running for the Secretary-Treasurer position.

Q: What are you currently researching?

Right now I’m juggling a number of big projects, but two stand out: one is a major study of language contact and morphosyntactic change in situations of language shift in Eastern Siberia, and another is a new book that I am working on with Lindsay Whaley. The first project involves fieldwork and the study of multilingualism and language shift, asking questions about the role of different factors (linguistic, psycholinguistic and extralinguistic) in determining the linguistic outcome of language contact, if there is a predictable hierarchy or order of changes when contact also involves language shift, and testing the role of social factors in these settings. The other project is completely different: Lindsay and I are taking a fresh look at language revitalization, vitality and sustainability. So much has changed and so much is happening, we feel it is time to do a more updated study that will replace Saving Languages.

Q: What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

My favorite article is Labov’s classic study of r in New York city department stores. Beyond being a fine piece of scholarship, it’s a very clever study, and shows how some ingenuity can make for an interesting research project. Moreover, I remember my grandmother taking me to Saks when I was a little girl, when the social stratification between Macy’s and Saks was far greater than today, so I can picture the context more clearly.

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

The LSA has always played an important role in my own professional development and I think that it does for everyone. It brings people together, critically at the annual meeting and at the Institute, and these events are crucial for keeping up-to-date with changes in the field, for getting new ideas, and most importantly for making personal contacts. I learn so much from other linguists, in their formal presentations but also just more casually, the annual meeting provides a terrific forum for both kinds of conversations. 

The LSA is an important advocate for linguists and linguistics. Right now it serves an invaluable role as providing an interface in Washington with legislators about policies that affect language use and vitality. The motto of the LSA is “Advancing the scientific study of language,” and that’s what it does. It goes beyond what a single individual can do; the LSA advances the profession.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?

This is an exciting time to be a linguist! Advances in technology and computing make all kinds of research that was unimaginable a few decades ago possible. The push to document endangered languages has made data from a wide range of languages available.  There are still plenty of challenges and I would like to single out two. One is the need for younger scholars to find jobs. The future of the field depends on this. And the other is to make our work more accessible and more relevant to the public. Despite the many advances in understanding language acquisition, processing and usage, the interplay of identity, well-being and language, linguists are often not consulted with regard to public language and education policies, or even in research in other fields that is language-related. We need to do a better job of packaging our findings and making them relevant to the general public, and this in turn should have an effect on jobs for linguists, both in academic and non-academic settings.