Nicole Holliday is an assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Pomona College in Claremont, California. She received her BA in linguistics and Spanish from The Ohio State University, and her PhD from New York University. Her research investigates the relationship between intonational variation and racial identity construction.  In particular, she focuses on how speakers with multiple and complex racial identities construct and perform their race through phonetic variation, as well as the effects of linguistic profiling and discrimination on black American speakers. At Pomona, she is involved with a number of community engagement efforts aimed to bring linguistics to underserved communities. She is a member of the Claremont Colleges Justice Education Initiative, and regularly teaches classes on linguistic profiling and discrimination in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange format, which aims to break down the barriers between the incarcerated and non-incarcerated. She is also the chair of the Linguistic Society America’s Committee on Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics (CEDL).

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 joined the LSA in 2012, during my first year as a doctoral student.

How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined? I’ve attended most annual meetings since 2012, and in 2017, along with Arthur Spears, I co-chaired the Committee on Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics (CEDL). This year, I am the chair of that committee. I’ve also attended two LSA Summer Institutes, one at the University of Michigan in 2013 as a student, and one last year at the University of Kentucky, where I co-taught “Intonation and Social Identity” with Paul Reed.

What are you currently researching/working on? 

My elevator pitch is that my life goal is to figure out what it means to “sound black” for both speakers and listeners. I identify as a sociophonetician who focuses on intonational variation as well as issues related to the complexity of racial identities. Currently, I have a number of ongoing projects, but one that I’m especially excited about focuses on the relationship between intonation and the disproportionate rate of school discipline of young black girls. I suspect that due to a combination of misogynoir and stereotypes, black girls’ use of intonational patterns associated with African American language can sometimes be interpreted by white teachers as disrespectful or hostile in school settings, when in reality, that’s not the case. I’m in the process of collecting data to see what’s going on with the intonational patterns of with black girls who experience school discipline compared with those who don’t, and I’m excited to see the results! Ultimately my goal is to do rigorous sociophonetic work that addresses issues of systematic inequality, so following in the long tradition of linguists like Bill Labov, Walt Wolfram, and Lisa Green who have focused on language in the educational system seems like a natural place to begin.

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

I think the biggest challenge to the field of linguistics today is communicating what we do with students and the public, and bringing folks who may have traditionally felt excluded from the field into our scholarly community. When I teach Introduction to Linguistics, on the first day of class I always ask the students “What do you think this class is about? What did you sign up for?” and usually less than half of them even have any idea what linguistics is! And these are college students who have already enrolled in the class! We have the natural disadvantage that our field is typically not a part of most high-school curricula, but I think we do have to work much harder to articulate what we do to the public. In her book, English With an Accent, Rosina Lippi-Green discusses the difference between how psychologists and linguists are viewed in the U.S. judicial system: it is common to have psychologists testify as expert witnesses, but linguists are rarely called and even when we are, our opinions are often dismissed. I feel that we can do much better job of reaching out to communities (and especially marginalized) in order to use our expertise and partner with them to address issues of interest to them, especially when it comes to things like linguistic profiling and discrimination.

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

I think it’s so important that the LSA acts as a unifying organizing for linguists across the country. Particularly for students and newer faculty, it’s easy to become really focused on our subfields and isolated from the field as whole, so the LSA’s committees, Annual Meetings, and Summer Institutes provide us with valuable opportunities to network and exchange ideas with folks outside of our specific areas of study. This is especially important because it fosters inclusion and the free exchange of interdisciplinary ideas, as well as promotes collaborative work.