The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

Sonja Lanehart is Professor and Brackenridge Endowed Chair in Literature and the Humanities at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She is author of Sista, Speak! Black Women Kinfolk Talk about Language and Literacy (2002) and Ebonics (expected 2017); editor of Sociocultural and Historical Contexts of African American English (2001), African American Women’s Language: Discourse, Education, and Identity (2009), and the Oxford Handbook of African American Language (2015); and former co-editor of Educational Researcher: Research News and Comment. She has organized and hosted several conferences on African American Language and African American Studies. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, African American Language, language and identity, Critical Race Theory, and Intersectionality in addition to the educational implications and applications of sociolinguistic research.

Q: When did you first join the LSA?
I don’t recall the year, but I was a graduate student, I believe, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I didn’t become fully engaged in LSA until ADS started meeting with LSA. By then, I was a tenure-track faculty at the University of Georgia. After a while LSA started broadening its sociolinguistics offerings at the annual meeting.
 
Q: How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?
I first was more interested in participating in ADS. Then I learned about and became involved in the Committee on Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics (CEDL). I co-chaired CEDL for several years and I still participate in CEDL. I have participated in other committees and efforts in LSA, but CEDL is closest to my heart. I became a lifetime member a few years ago and I enjoy each year seeing how LSA expands and re-envisions its mission and outreach.
 
Q: What are you currently researching?
Currently, I am conducting research on African American Language and identity across generations, but primarily African American and Afro-Latin@ youth (including teenagers). I have loved working with teenagers and seeing how their minds work. This work is now part of an international research consortium based in Europe. 
 
Q: What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?
Anything by Dr. Geneva Smitherman, Professor Emerita, Michigan State University. She inspires me. She and I had the same dissertation director (the late Richard W. Bailey) at the University of Michigan. I love having that in common with her and hope some of her awesomeness rubs off on me as a result. 
 
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?
I think linguists still need to do a better job of making their research relevant and visible to the public and, as is the case with most of the academy, Linguistics has to become more diverse and inclusive of under-represented groups. Despite the work of CEDL and COSWL, there is still much work to be done. That means better outreach, better funding, better mentoring, and better education of those who have the army and the navy about the importance of inclusion. 
 
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to say to the LSA membership as a whole?
I am optimistic about the direction of LSA and the role linguists can and do play in society. There is dynamic work going on that encompasses all aspects of linguistics. There are more people expanding the boundaries of Linguistics and showing the far reaches of linguistics in the everyday lives of people. 
 
Q: How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?
When I first started in Linguistics, I was able to read every book ever written about African American Language (AAL). With the Ebonics Controversy in 1996-1997, the need for and demand for research on AAL exploded not only in linguistics but in other areas as well. Now, there is much more research and more applied research on AAL. I’m glad I have been able to be a part of that growth.

Q: What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?
I like to encourage my students to ask complex questions and do interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research because that is what it takes to address the issues of the world today. I want them to realize the limitless potential they have to impact others with their research and show society the potential of language – which is more than they often think.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field?
LSA re-envisions and examines the field of Linguistics and its subfields. It has become a broader, more inclusive organization of all areas and aspects of the discipline and in serving its members. I love the growth I’ve seen in education and outreach to the public, making linguistics accessible, providing much more professional development to its membership, recognizing and addressing various constituencies of its membership (e.g., graduate students, unaffiliated scholars, contingent faculty, private industry and non-profit faculty), etc. I love watching LSA evolve.