Jeremy Calder (Ph.D. Stanford 2017, Linguistics) is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Their work straddles the fields of sociolinguistic variation and linguistic anthropology. Using sociophonetic and ethnographic methods, they explore the role of phonetic variation in the construction of marginalized identity in communities of queer/trans individuals and people of color. They are a member of the editorial board for Gender and Language and are working on a monograph entitled Handsome Women: non-binary language, gender, and embodied style in a San Francisco drag community.

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 my first year of grad school in 2012 when I registered to attend my first annual meeting. It was in Boston and I remember it vividly, because it was the first time I had ever experienced single digit temperatures!

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

As a queer Latinx person, and the only out non-binary tenure-track faculty member in the field that I know of, it can be easy to feel alienated in academic environments, so I’ve found it very helpful for me to cultivate relationships with other queer scholars and scholars of color. I’ve been part of both COZIL (Committee on LGBTQ+ [Z] Issues in Linguistics) and CEDL (Committee on Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics), two committees I believe are doing some of the most important work in the field and making linguistics more accessible and less othering for queer and non-white scholars. Recently I’ve been organizing a webinar with LSA on LGBTQ+ Sociophonetics that broadcasts October 24 and features a number of queer junior scholars who are doing exciting work and pushing variationist study in new directions.

What are you currently researching/working on?

I’m interested in the ways queer people and people of color use linguistic variables to communicate things about who they are. My main project deals with a group of non-binary drag queens, exploring the ways their phonetic patterns and visual presentations shed light on the articulation of gender beyond the status quo. I’m also doing some work with colleague Sharese King at the University of Chicago, exploring how linguistic variation among people of color is doing more than just racializing them, but also communicating things like gender, locality, and sexuality. We implement an intersectional analysis to explore how people’s linguistic patterns are reflecting multiple things about their identities, not just reifying their membership to a single, monolithic racial category.

I think when people see my work and see the words “drag queens”, “non-binary”, or “people of color” in the title, they think what I’m doing is just about drag queens, non-binary people, or people of color. But I really think my work is about the communication of social meaning in a way that is recognized by interlocutors. It’s about the relationship between— on the one hand— larger ideological structures that dictate who a speaker is allowed to be in the social world— and on the other hand— the speaker’s agency to express who they actually are.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

I’m very interested in semiotics and the way people use linguistic signs to communicate social meaning, so needless to say, Michael Silverstein’s “Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life” has been very influential for me. It’s a dense paper, so I’ve really tried to queer the theory and apply it in my own work in a way that might be more digestible for an audience beyond theoretical semioticians. I think the idea that people can take a sign and make it mean something slightly different in a new context is something that’s very queer.

I also find the work Jonathan Rosa and Nelson Flores are doing to be absolute fire, especially their paper “Undoing Appropriateness.” They argue that the way American society conceptualizes standard language is shaped by what white listeners consider appropriate and acceptable, and I think it’s a great article for anyone who takes Standard English for granted.

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

I think one challenge is that the population of people researching American speech is far from being representative of the population of Americans who speak.  I think it’s important for us as researchers to think about how we are socially positioned, how our positionality relates to that of our subjects, and how our positionality influences the arguments we make about the ways our subjects use language. Sometimes we can advance problematic arguments without even realizing it, due to the way we are used to thinking about how the world works and how language works. For one, I would like to see more Latinx scholars in the field and more resources for Latinx scholars to find their footing among the wider community of linguists, and I feel it’s important for me to do my part to facilitate that.

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

I’ve been very happy to see the initiatives geared towards queer scholars and scholars of color in recent years. The recent LGBTQ and POC-focused webinars and panels at the annual meetings have been great venues that give queer and POC researchers access to an audience that may not otherwise hear them. I think people often assume that research about queer individuals is just for queer scholars to engage with, and that research about people of color is just for scholars of color to engage with. But my perspective is that all of this work has theoretical implications that reach beyond the specific communities we happen to be analyzing in a given talk or paper, and many queer and non-white scholars would be happy to argue for that when given the opportunity. So I still think our field has some progress to make when it comes to engaging with the output of minoritized scholars in a serious way, but these much-needed LSA initiatives have been important steps in the right direction.

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

Please don’t forget to engage with and cite the work of queer and BIPOC scholars! And check out our upcoming webinar on LGBTQ+ Sociophonetics on Saturday, October 24 at 3pm EST, featuring exciting new queer research, and co-sponsored by COZIL and CU Boulder!