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

Joseph Salmons co-founded the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and is the author of A History of German: What the past reveals about today’s language (Oxford, 2012, second edition forthcoming) and editor of Diachronica. His work focuses on language change and linguistic theory, especially sound patterns, often drawing data from Germanic languages, including American English and heritage languages.

At the Lögberg (Law Rock), Iceland


Q: When did you first join the LSA?

As a graduate student. One of the first issues of Language I got included Murray & Vennemann's article on "Sound change and syllable structure in Germanic phonology”. It was a revelation about how to bridge from being a linguist in a language department to working on real theoretical issues, with classic early Germanic data in the context of current theoretical debates.
Q: How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?A wide range of ways, actually. Beyond presenting at the annual meeting and some involvement with Language, I’ve had the privilege of serving on and chairing a couple of committees, organizing symposia for the annual meeting and teaching at a summer institute (with plans to teach again next summer).

 Q: What are you currently researching? 

Sound change, in the broadest, richest sense and with a whole set of colleagues and students.
Q: What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study? 

Ha, like there could be only one?!?!?!?
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today? 

How best to connect with allied fields, including evolutionary biology for historical linguistics for example, and at the same time how to build the strongest connections across subfields. We’re seeing that across, say, phonetics and phonology and variationist work, but there’s a ton to be done.
Q: How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?

It’s an entirely different field. The ‘theory wars’ have mostly faded, and more people I know now, probably most, have a much better and deeper appreciation of the contributions of subfields and theories they don’t work in to the success of the whole enterprise. And again, our connections beyond our own field are getting better, as we’ve begun to engage in new kinds of public outreach, for instance.

Q: What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?

Do it!

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

The real answer to that is that the LSA provides the whole package for the profession … the annual meeting, summer institutes, publications, a lot of professionalization for students and young colleagues, and so on. But you probably want a simple clean answer and I think increasingly that’s about providing a public presence for linguistics. We really need that and the Society has been stepping up.