About the LSA Member Spotlight

Originally created in 2011 and now making its debut on the new LSA website, the LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month.  If you would like to be featured in a Member Spotlight, or would like to recommend someone else to be featured, please contact David Robinson, the LSA's Director of Membership and Meetings.

Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

Laura Wagner (The Ohio State University)

Laura Wagner is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Ohio State University.  She earned her doctorate in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1998 and has held academic positions at various universities, including UMass-Amherst, Harvard University, and Wellesley College.  Laura’s research has focused on children’s acquisition of semantics, particularly their acquisition of tense and aspect.  More recently, she has conducted research looking at the development of sociolinguistic competence.  Laura is the chair of the Ohio State Buckeye Language Network and directs the Language Sciences Research Lab located within the Center of Science and Industry (COSI).

Q:  When did you first join the LSA?

I think it was in 1992 when I attended my first LSA conference (and my first conference ever).  I was a senior in college and presenting my senior honors thesis work there.

Q:  Can you briefly describe your involvement with the LSA during the time you’ve been a member?

I have been a relatively passive member until recently.  I have attended the LSA conference off and on and of course I read Language.  A few years ago I got on the program committee for the conference and now I am more involved than ever before.

Q:  What motivated you to join the Society and to continue or expand your involvement with it?

I first joined the LSA when I was a student because it was part of being a professional linguist, and that’s one of the reasons I have kept my membership over the years.  But since I’ve gotten my PhD, I’ve always been employed in Psychology departments and my LSA membership is also a way for me to maintain my identity as a Linguist and make sure I’m not losing touch with the field.  I expanded my involvement with the LSA only after I got tenure and felt like I had the freedom to declare myself as a little more of a Linguist and a little less of a Psychologist.

Q:  Tell us more about the Language Sciences Research Lab.

Over the past few years, I’ve been directing a research lab that is located inside our local science museum (the Center of Science and Industry, or COSI).  The lab itself is a large glass-enclosed room where visitors to the museum can watch us conducting research – and both children and adults can participate as research subjects.   There are a dozen different researchers working in the lab from all over Ohio State (Psychology, Linguistics, Speech & Hearing Sciences, English, Music), each one looking at a different dimension of language, from dialect discrimination and categorization to online processing of prosody (with our eye-trackers) to the perception of spoken vs. sung speech.  The lab is actually an exhibit at the museum, and one of our key functions is to show people “what research looks like”. 

In addition, we also conduct a lot of interactive activities on the museum floor where we teach visitors about different aspects of language.  For instance, in one activity, we show people what speech sounds look like on a spectrogram and give visitors a printout of a spectrogram of them saying their own name.  In another activity, people play a game based on the Stroop task and we talk about the automaticity of reading.  In another activity, we get people to use different word learning strategies when they learn labels for mystery objects.  The faculty in the lab teach a course to Ohio State students that trains them in how to talk to visitors about the language sciences, and the students conduct most of the floor activities and also help recruit visitors into the studies.  We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the museum staff and visitors, and we’re very excited about getting more people informed and engaged by language.  To learn more about the lab, visit our website.

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

I think the most important function of the LSA is the way it provides a sense of community.  Linguistics is such a diverse field that it is easy to get caught up in your own subfield and not think about how all the pieces fit together.  I love the big-tent feel of Language and I'm a huge fan of the book-review section in the journal as a way of keeping up on trends across the field.  And while the Annual Meeting is critical for bringing the community together, I think the Linguistic Institutes are probably the most important community building activity the LSA does.