The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. If you would like to recommend an LSA member (including yourself) for a future Member Spotlight, please contact Brice Russ, LSA Director of Communications.

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Lauren Squires, The Ohio State University

Lauren Squires headshot

Lauren Squires is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Ohio State University. She earned her PhD in Linguistics from University of Michigan; prior to working at OSU, she was on faculty in the English department at University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She conducts research on English language variation in processing and perception, as well as language and (new) media.

Q: When did you first join the LSA?
Records indicate that I joined in 2006 - that was the first year of my PhD program, so it makes sense!

Q: Can you briefly describe your involvement with the LSA during the time you’ve been a member?
I attended the 2007 Linguistic Institute (Stanford) as a graduate student, have been to Annual Meetings, have reviewed abstracts for the Annual Meeting, and was a faculty member at the 2013 Linguistic Institute (University of Michigan). Being on faculty at the Institute was definitely one of the highlights of my career so far!

Q: What motivated you to join the Society and to continue or expand your involvement with it?
I was trying to be a linguist; linguists join the LSA!

Q: How has working outside of a linguistics department changed your approach to linguistics?
I feel this most palpably in my teaching experience. Teaching in an English department carries with it the challenge and reward of exposing students to linguistics who don't really know what they're signing up for. My undergraduate courses are mostly taken by English majors and students who want to teach K-12, so this is a different population from what you typically get in a linguistics department. Many of them have never heard of linguistics before! It's often a struggle to get them on board with our "scientific" methods, but there is usually a turning point when I can see them getting excited about this new way to think about language--a thing that has always been part of their lives, but that they may not have had the tools to really analyze before. I find witnessing that transformation very satisfying. 

But I should add that much of my own training comes from outside of linguistics departments as well, including my own very first linguistics classes, which were offered through a TESOL department. Really, linguists inhabit so many different departments across the humanities and social sciences--and there are many, many universities that don't have standalone linguistics departments. I appreciate all of these different places the study of language is being done.

Q: You've been studying computer-mediated communication (CMC) for most of your academic career. Where do you see the study of language and the Internet going in the future?
It would be hazardous to guess!

But certainly, how the accessibility of data online has evolved has already had an enormous impact, just in the last few years. The study of linguistic issues in CMC has been happening in a robust way since the 1990s, mostly in sociolinguistics. But now we have this huge wave of people collecting massive datasets from Twitter and analyzing them using computational methods. This research is always bumping up against sociolinguistic issues, but for the most part, it isn't done primarily for the sake of exploring sociolinguistic questions, and the fact that the data come from CMC contexts is just taken as incidental.

Meanwhile, people interested in understanding language specifically in CMC contexts often aren't equipped with the same kind of technical training to be able to do these big analyses. So I hope that we can realize the potential of collaboration to combine the tools for large-scale text analysis with the theoretical questions of sociolinguistics. Some researchers are of course already doing this, and it's very exciting.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?
That's a big question; here's the first thing that comes to mind--it's an internal challenge, and surely not a new one. From the perspective of someone who fairly recently was in graduate school, I think it is always going to be a challenge to train people so that they can not only do their own research, but also understand the goals and methods of other areas of research, so that they can engage with colleagues from across the spectrum (and possibly do innovative, important interdisciplinary work). It feels like this will only get harder if the economics of higher ed continue the way they have been going: funding gets tighter, departments get smaller, and students are expected to complete their degrees in shorter amounts of time. 

One of the things I love about the LSA Annual Meeting is being able to attend sessions on topics that I typically don't think much about. But I often find myself frustrated at not being able to really understand what's being presented, if it uses methods/theories outside of my own expertise. Linguistics is so small, yet so broad, yet so highly technical! So that is a challenge--balancing specialized and generalized knowledge.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members?  To the field?
I would say sponsoring the Institute, because I just think it's so special! I personally have benefited enormously from the Institutes I've attended, and I think the Institute is unique amongst academic events, both for what it does and for what it represents. The existence of the Institute makes me so inspired and happy to be part of this field.

But more generally, just providing a common organization and meeting ground for linguists from across areas is invaluable. Linguistics is such a broad, interdisciplinary field, and the LSA--through the Annual Meeting, Language, the Institute, and all its other communications--provides space for all these perspectives to come together. I like that throughout the year we have our subfield-specific conferences, but then everyone is still talking about the LSA come December/January. I also think the work the LSA does to get linguists engaged with the public and current events (resolutions, for instance) is extremely important.