Anne Curzan is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English, Linguistics, and Education at the University of Michigan. She is also currently the Associate Dean for Humanities in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Curzan's research focuses on the history of the English language,  language ideology, language and gender, lexicography, and pedagogy. Her most recent book, Fixing English: Prescriptivism and Language History, came out in 2014 with Cambridge University Press. Curzan is co-author, with Michael Adams, of the textbook How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction, which is now in its third edition. She has created three audio/video courses for the Teaching Company/The Great Courses, including “The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins” and “English Grammar Boot Camp.”  She can be found talking about language on the blog Lingua Franca for the Chronicle of Higher Education and on the segment "That's What They Say" on local NPR station Michigan Radio. In 2016 she received LSA’s Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award.

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 when I was in graduate school. I remember going to my first LSA annual meeting in Chicago in 1997 and being awed as I saw all the people whose work I had been reading (Bill Labov, Penny Eckert, Walt Wolfram, John Rickford, Donka Minkova, Robert Stockwell, and so many more) walking down the halls. I even got to talk with several of them, thanks to my Ph.D. advisor Richard W. Bailey. These scholars’ generosity with their time and interest in my work made me feel welcome (and less like a complete imposter!). That was the meeting where John Rickford presented the “LSA Resolution on the Oakland ‘Ebonics’ Issue,” and I remember how crowded the ballroom was. To this day I ask students to read John Rickford’s reflection on all that happened around the Oakland Resolution (“The Ebonics Controversy in my Backyard”), and I talk with them about the work that many linguists and the LSA continue to do to try to intervene in public conversations about language.

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

I think I have missed only one annual meeting since 1997—if that is possibly right? Most of the talks I have given over the years have been at the American Dialect Society, and I enjoy the cross-pollination between LSA and the sister societies. I had the opportunity to teach at the Linguistic Institute in 2013, which was immensely rewarding. And I’ve been very pleased to be on the Public Relations Committee for the past few years. This year we were excited to launch “The Five-Minute Linguist,” a contest where our colleagues present their research in lively, informative, and very brief talks—with feedback from a journalist panel and audience voting. It’s fun to work with the LSA as we try out some innovative programming alongside the scholarly panels and posters that have served us well for many years.

What are you currently researching?

For the past several years I have been studying prescriptivism and its role in language history. I have more recently become very interested in the intersections of linguistics and medicine—sparked in large part by conversations with two colleagues at the University of Michigan, one in Medicine and one in Public Health. We are excited to think more about the many ways that language matters in terms of both the delivery of healthcare and the discourse around healthcare.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

I think that Deborah Cameron’s book Verbal Hygiene (1995) has been the most influential piece of scholarship in terms of my own work.  I remember reading that book and thinking, “I wish I had written that!” The arguments are original, smart, and nuanced in ways that I really appreciate it—and the book fundamentally changed how I think about the relationship of descriptive and prescriptive approaches to language.

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

One exciting development is that more non-linguists seem to have heard of linguistics. This is great news for the field. I think the fact that we have some terrific linguists and journalists with linguistic training writing popular columns online and in newspapers and doing podcasts has made a real difference here. Second, I couldn’t be more pleased to see a more diverse group of young scholars coming into the field, asking questions that are pushing multiple subfields in new directions. And I love being at talks at LSA where both established and newer scholars are talking about their personal investments in the questions they’re asking. The best work is never “disinterested”: it is rigorous, analytic, and meaningful to us as scholars and people. Third, corpus-based work has become more mainstream here in the U.S. I was first introduced to corpus linguistics in 1995 when the ICAME (International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English) conference was hosted in Toronto. Back then it was a big deal to host ICAME in North America, and while there were certainly a few key U.S. scholars doing corpus linguistics then (e.g., Doug Biber and his colleagues at Northern Arizona), the very first talk I was asked to give at the University of Washington when I joined the faculty there in 1998 was “What is Corpus Linguistics?”

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

LSA is crucial to the professional identity of our field, and I appreciate the ways in which it brings linguists from across a wide range of disciplines together. The journal Language is a must-read in the field. I think the Linguistic Institute is an incredibly important service to the field, both in terms of the intensive training it offers students and in terms of the community and conversations it fosters among all Institute participants. I appreciate that LSA as a professional organization continues to seek ways to do more public outreach as well as to recognize and support the members who are pursuing more public-facing work.

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

I hope that we as a membership can continue to find ways to encourage linguists to carry on pursuing rigorous scholarly work that is published in more specialized venues as well as public intellectual work—and not see those two pursuits as in any way at odds with one another.