Susan E. Kalt  is a Professor of Spanish at Roxbury Community College in Boston, where she was awared tenure in 2013. She holds a PhD in Linguistics awarded by the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She has also held appointments at Boston College, the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Boston University, the Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba, Bolivia, and the Universidad Nacional del Altiplano, Puno, Peru. She has earned multiple awards, including most recently an  American Council of Learned Societies and Mellon Community College Faculty Fellowship (2019-20) for “Telling Stories Our Way: Changes in the Evidential System of Southern Quechua” and a National Endowment for the Humanities Documenting Endangered Languages Fellowship (2019-20).

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’ve been a member since 1993.

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

My main involvement has been through participation in annual meetings and those of sister societies such as SSILA, SPCL, and satellite conferences. I’m currently a member of CEDL.

What are you currently researching/working on?

I am at an exciting juncture in my research. After nearly two decades of relationship-building and fieldwork in Bolivia and Peru, I’ve begun publishing a comparative corpus of rural Southern Quechua narrative speech. This summer I’m supervising North and South American graduate students in glossing morphemes, tagging parts of speech and conducting statistical analysis. We’re looking at how the language is changing at the word, sentence and discourse levels. Because rural speech communities are experiencing tremendous pressure to migrate and assimilate, we’re preserving and sharing the corpus via the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America, which I learned about at an LSA annual meeting.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

Right now I’m revisiting Mark Baker’s books Incorporation and The Polysynthesis Parameter to make sense of the interplay of word order, Case and agreement in our corpora. An especially pertinent dissertation for me is Past tense forms and their functions in South Conchucos Quechua: time, evidentiality, discourse structure, and affect by Diane Hintz. It’s a wonderful, holistic treatment. 

A non-linguistic book (by a linguist) transformed my understanding of how to practice science. It is called Why So Slow: The Advancement of Women, by Virginia Valian. A core insight of the book is that people in our culture generally believe that women’s professional success is the result of good luck, while men’s is the result of high intelligence. Neither schema considers the key role of effort in achieving success. This leads people to disregard women’s efforts and/or to view them as compensation for lack of ability.

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

It’s the same one we’re facing in other fields: how to confront racial, ethnic, class and gender bias in our professional lives. Until we can see the bias, we’re inclined to perpetuate it without noticing.

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

Today there is more awareness of endangered languages and the communities that speak them. There is a recognition even among funders that benefiting the academic community is not enough; scientists have an ethical obligation to discover and engage in supporting the speakers themselves, according to their own priorities. In the Andes, everyone knows that reciprocal labor, or ayni, lies at the heart of good practice.

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

In this hyper-specialized world, the most important service the LSA provides to its members is the opportunity to gather with people at all stages of their careers who work within different theoretical and methodological frameworks. This allows for better integration and perspective. The LSA facilitates networking and collaboration which increases our impact and makes the work more fun.