John Baugh is the Margaret Bush Wilson Professor in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, where he holds academic appointments in Psychological and Brain Sciences, Anthropology, Linguistics, Education, English, African and African American Studies, American Culture Studies, Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology, and Urban Studies. His research evaluates the social stratification of linguistic diversity in advanced industrial societies with relevance to matters of policy in education, medicine, and law. He is best known for advancing studies of linguistic profiling and various forms of linguistic discrimination that were supported variously by the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the United States Department of State. He currently serves as a member of the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences at the The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and MedicineHe is a past president of the American Dialect Society, and a Fellow of the LSA. He received a B.A. in Speech and Communication at Temple University, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania. His previous academic appointments were at Swarthmore College, The University of Texas at Austin, and Stanford University where he is Professor Emeritus of Education and Linguistics.

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 in 1976.

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

It has been my pleasure to serve the LSA in various capacities, including membership on the executive committee, being the inaugural chair of the public relations committee, serving on various committees– especially those regarding matters to increase diversity within the LSA, and currently being Associate Editor of Language in partnership with Donna Christian devoted to matters of public policy.

What are you currently researching?

I am working on various projects that seek to promote the utilization of linguistic science to promote justice, particularly as it pertains to language related policies in the fields of education, medicine, and law.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

I have three favorites, and they all have collectively advanced the field of sociolinguistics in general, and in the first and last instances they have transformed the study of African American English:

  • Labov, William. 1969. "Contraction, Deletion, and Inherent Variability of the English Copula." In Language, 45 , no. 4: 715--762.
  • Cedergren Henrietta J. and Sankoff David. 1974. "Variable Rules: Performance As a Statistical Reflection of Competence." In Language, 50 , no. 2: 333--355.
  • Spears, Arthur K. 1982. "The Black English Semi-Auxiliary Come." In Language, 58 , no. 4: 850--872. 

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

I am pleased that my primary academic appointment at Washington University is in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, however, my career began within linguistics departments at Swarthmore College and The University of Texas at Austin. Whereas Psychology is a discipline that is ubiquitous, with departments at nearly every institution of higher learning in the United States and around the world, including community colleges, many institutions of higher learning do not have full departments in linguistics, or worse, they do not offer any courses in linguistics.  For example, there are no departments of linguistics at any of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and I know of no community college that maintains a department of linguistics.  As a result, the content of our science is not well known despite its universality and relevance to every other academic field, to say little of linguistic relevance to nearly every human endeavor.  It is partially for this reason that the work I was honored to initiate through leadership of the, then, newly created LSA public relations committee has proven to be extremely important.

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

Advances in technology have always been beneficial to linguistics, and this has been the case throughout my career. When I began my research computational procedures were rarely used among linguists. Since then a combination of new technology and innovative interdisciplinary methods have provided new avenues for highly creative linguistic studies that were barely imaginable when I entered the field in 1972 at the University of Pennsylvania.

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

Job prospects for linguists are growing. Yes; traditional academic careers still exist, but so too do new opportunities in private industry, medicine, government, law, and foreign service; in addition to the vast majority of companies that were created in Silicon Valley (as well as Microsoft) that have been hiring greater numbers of linguists, and these promising employment trends are likely to continue.

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

Although there are several beneficial services provided by the LSA, I believe coordination of the biannual summer institutes is tremendously beneficial to the entire discipline. The summer LSA institutes bring together superb faculty working on cutting edge research to teach cohorts that can range between undergraduate students to endowed professors, all participating in the same class. These are exceptional learning opportunities that I believe strongly rejuvenate all of the sub-fields within the discipline.

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

Anything that can be done to help make your individual research, or accounts of your specific research, more accessible to the general public could be in our collective interest as an organization and to the future well being of linguistic science as a whole.