Jessica Rett is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Linguistics Department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her research interests include semantics, pragmatics, comparative typology, language acquisition, and the philosophy of language. She spends most of her time thinking about phenomena that start with the letter E, like equatives, evaluativity, evidentials, and exclamatives.

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?

In graduate school, in 2005.

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

I've been working with the Committee on the Status of Women in Linguistics, and will become the committee chair next year. We've been spending a lot of energy compiling statistics on gender representation in the field, and also organizing the new Pop-Up Mentoring Program (PUMP), for which we help organize one- to two-hour mentoring sessions between anyone who's interested at various conferences. Please get in touch with us if you're involved in organizing a conference and would like to host a PUMP event, they're extremely popular, especially with junior LSA members.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

I think Lauri Karttunen's 1976 paper "Discourse Referents" is a great example of how it's possible to do amazing, insightful work in semantic theory without getting too bogged down in lambdas or formalism. (Heim's 1982 dissertation does the same sort of thing.) The observations in that paper have, with other work, formed the foundation for dynamic semantics and many sophisticated formalisms, which can be evaluated independently of this core principle. 

And I'm not sure if it counts as linguistics but I'll always have a special place in my heart for Armstrong, Gleitman & Gleitman's (1983) "What some concepts might not be," a playful take-down of Prototype Theory.

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

Linguists -- with the help of the tech industry -- have succeeded in making Linguistics more attractive and accessible than it was when I graduated from college almost 20 years ago. The downside of this outreach is that the competition for traditional academic jobs like mine is substantially more crowded. But the upside is that there are many diverse ways to be a respectable scholar of Linguistics. I encourage students to be open-minded about their career path, as the future of the field of study is dynamic and diversifying. And I'd be irresponsible to not mention it: jump at any opportunity to document an endangered language!

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

I think the LSA Institute is extremely useful as an attempt to equalize across class and nationality. It's nice to have an opportunity to learn Linguistics regardless of your background or the sort of school you can afford to attend.