Valentyna Filimonova, originally from Ukraine, is a Ph. D. candidate finishing a dual degree in General and Hispanic Linguistics at Indiana University, with a certificate in college pedagogy. She received a B.A. in Spanish and Linguistics from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and an M.A. in Spanish and General Linguistics from Indiana University. Her research identity begins with sociolinguistic variation and finds professional applications in pedagogy, forensic linguistics consulting, indigenous language documentation and preservation, politeness research, and community engagement. Her main academic mentors, collaborators, and bosses are Dr. Manuel Díaz-Campos (Indiana University), Dr. Marcela San Giacomo (National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM), and Dr. Robert Leonard (Hofstra University). Valentyna currently lives in Mexico City and stays engaged with academic life at UNAM, in anticipation of continuing her career in her new local community with the already established international connections. A more interactive story of her career development, interests, and accomplishments is viewable in her LinkedIn profile, where she loves to connect and help others get connected.

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 the LSA in 2017, the year of the Kentucky Linguistic Institute.

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

My first involvement with the LSA was the 2017 Linguistic Institute in Kentucky, where I took classes, presented a research poster, and began professional consulting in forensic linguistics as an outcome of those classes. That same year I joined the Linguistics in Higher Education Committee (LiHEC), which I have supported ever since, including at this year’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Besides typical member involvement in decision making and moving issues along, I have been fortunate to just publish in Language on one of LiHEC’s major initiatives, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), a classroom research on using problem-based pedagogy in introductory linguistics, with a secret introduction to forensic linguistics. Whether you have time to read it or not, I would love to discuss it with anyone interested!

During my internship at the LSA’s Washington, DC, office in the summer of 2018, among many valuable opportunities, I serendipitously participated in the planning of the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages. Little did I know that, following that internship, I would be invited to collaborate on a language documentation project between Indiana University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), working in Cuicatec communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, while doing dissertation work in Mexico City. This involvement has allowed me to meet and appreciate deeper the many of you who work in indigenous communities at the Annual Meeting, dedicated just to that, and I look forward to staying in touch and facilitating any future collaborations.

Another important service that grew out of my LSA internship is the LSA Student Ambassadors Initiative, which is currently in its debut year. I am enjoying coordinating a couple dozen inspirational graduate and undergraduate students from around the US and several countries abroad in efforts to raise awareness about linguistics and increase student engagement with the LSA. A heartfelt shout out to these energetic and dedicated leaders of the future of the field! And for those who are not (yet) connected, I am registered in the LSA’s renewed mentoring alliance – feel free to reach out!

What are you currently researching/working on?

I am in the final stretch of finishing my dissertation, which is on sociolinguistic variation in production and perception of the formal ‘you’ clitic in Mexico City. The phenomenon is known as polite leísmo, for its use of le instead of the most common lo as a direct object of the verb. More generally, it challenges the binary informal-formal T-V (tú-usted) distinction by introducing a more nuanced formal treatment. As such, this is both a morphosyntactic and pragmatic phenomenon as it signals and constructs social relationships in real-time interaction between individuals with some social distance. The best part of this research has been running all over Mexico City, meeting and speaking with over 220 people, training several local undergraduates in field methods and transcription, and establishing invaluable friendships with all those who helped me conduct role-plays, interviews, and collect questionnaires, or simply be my community and my family. Those who have seen my poster at the Annual Meeting may remember some of my findings, and for those who haven’t, here is a spoiler. I find polite leísmo to be an illustrative example of a subtle morphosyntactic ambiguity capable of serving as a multifunctional politeness and social mobility tool, due to its position at the interface of morphosyntax, pragmatics, and sociolinguistics. By seeing how its perception is different from how people actually speak, I propose that polite leísmo is a half-conscious endeavor to reflect, reinforce, and redefine social relationships and the speaker’s identity within a community by softly signaling speaker’s background, intention, power dynamics, and strategic communication through day-to-day speech acts. It is my hope to place the knowledge, skills, and the resources acquired through this dissertation work at the service of the people who made it possible, for better opportunities for these communities and the field.

What advice would you give to undergraduate students interested in pursuing an advanced degree in linguistics?

I would say that rather than just a career, linguistics is a skill set for multiple careers. Linguistics is a perfect interdisciplinary field where people of different personalities, interests, and abilities can train for a wide range of academic, industry, governmental, and non-profit careers. If you are a math and logic-oriented scientist or engineer, there are theoretical and quantitative paths for you with multiple technological applications. If you are artistic and seeking to exploit your creativity, you will find interesting intersections of language with culture, art, music, literature, artisanal activity, and more. If you are a people person with a heart to help others, seek out anthropological and sociolinguistics training to make your research with people, about people, and for people. If you are a justice-thirsty activist, make the most of your critical discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, and forensic linguistics courses to make a tangible difference while you study. Whatever classes you take, be open to be challenged and stretched into directions outside of your comfort zone. Your world grows and so do you. And through all of this, get involved, get your hands dirty, get research and work experience, volunteer, and build your networks. You are a scientist, an artist, an activist – whether you know it or not yet. And keep your career options open: most of the world doesn’t realize it needs you yet or how exactly to use your enormous skill set and adaptability. You probably don’t either. Use your advanced degree path to discover it (and please reach out)!

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

One of the most valuable features of the LSA is connection. Not only does it provide opportunities to connect members among ourselves, it also connects us to information and resources and has a wealth of connections with academic institutions, non-profit organizations and associations, industry, and the government for the growth and enrichment of the field of linguistics. The LSA is an incredible interdisciplinary, inter-sector, and international network. And besides being mere consumers of these services and resources, we as members are privileged to be these services and connections for each other by volunteering our time, our knowledge, and our resources for the benefit of our community and the field. I want to acknowledge so many of you who have been a resource for me on my path to a PhD and to reiterate my disposition to serve as a resource for all of you.