Norma Mendoza-Denton (Ph.D. Stanford 1997, Linguistics) is Professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of California – Los Angeles. Her areas of specialization are linguistic anthropology, anthrophonetics, and multimedia ethnography, with an emphasis on youth, bilingualism, politics, and style in language. She is the founder and director of the Multimedia Ethnography lab, specializing in ethnographic video and multimedia and gaming teaching and research. Dr. Mendoza-Denton’s early work was among teenage Latina gang members in the San Francisco Bay Area. The gangs' ideologies associated aspects of language behavior with concepts of femininity, ethnicity, and nationalism. This research led to the publication of her 2008 book Homegirls: Language and Cultural Practice among Latina Youth Gangs, published with Wiley/Blackwell Publishers. Mendoza-Denton's recent research interests include gangs' use of the internet, and political speech. Her new book, Language in the Era of Donald Trump: Scandals and Emergencies, is coedited with Janet McIntosh and forthcoming in August 2020 from Cambridge University Press.

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 first joined the LSA when I was a graduate student in the 1990s. I remember going for my first job interview (at Ohio State) at the LSA meetings.

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

I have been involved mostly in the LSA linguistics institutes, both as a student attendee in 1996 and later as a professor in the 2000s and 2010s.   I have participated in five institutes!  I have served as Associate Editor of Language, served on some committees including COSWL and CEDL, and now serve on the Executive Committee.

What are you currently researching/working on?

I am about to release an edited volume called “Language in the Era of Donald Trump: Scandals and Emergencies,” (Aug. 2020, Cambridge University Press), with my coeditor Janet McIntosh from Brandeis U. We have twenty-one chapters with twenty-seven contributors from all across linguistics and anthropology worldwide. It has been important to me to exercise the power of the pen in our current political climate.  I think that applying our expertise to matters of public concern is something we don’t do enough in our research. I intend to teach from this book during the 2020 election. I am also beginning a fieldwork-based anthrophonetics study of language in Los Angeles, powered by collaboration with UCLA undergrad and graduate students.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

I am very fond of Miriam Meyerhoff and Naomi Nagy’s 2008 collection honoring Gillian Sankoff, it’s called "Social Lives in Language–Sociolinguistics and multilingual speech communities." I find myself returning to the chapters in that volume again and again, just uniformly great stuff.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today? 

I think the biggest challenge in our field is going to be relevance and scope.  A lot of the work that used to be done by linguists is now done all across the academy, industry, and (non-)governmental agencies.  Maybe it was always this way! We need to be more capacious in our definition of who is a linguist, especially in light of the diversification of the field. We also need to empower the youngest among us to speak loudly! I want to see more involvement of high school and undergraduate students.

How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?

I am very encouraged that many more underrepresented scholars have been joining and participating in the LSA. We need more native speakers of different languages to become linguists and work on their own and different languages in order to shed the early history of linguistics as a colonialist enterprise.

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

Join the LSA! A linguistics degree is great preparation for so many careers.

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

I think the most important service the LSA provides is cohesion and community to the members, and for the field it would have to be the publications. We innovate in print and we remain a field by being in contact with each other. This is why LSA institutes are so important. I always tell anyone who will listen that it’s like going to the Olympics, you get to see the most incredible scholars from all over the world at the top of their game.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to the LSA membership as a whole? 

Stay curious, stay involved, and pay it forward!