The LSA is pleased to announce that its Committee on Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics (CEDL) has selected five linguistics students to receive its Diversity Travel Awards to attend the 2018 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City. The students selected, José Fernández Guerrero (an undergraduate in Linguistics and Anthropology at Cornell University), Christina Goodson (pursing an MA in Applied Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma's Department of Anthropology), Monica Do (pursing a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Southern California), Kendra Calhoun (pursing a PhD in Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara), and Minnie Quartey Annan (pursing a PhD in Linguistics at Georgetown University), were asked to repond to various questions posed by CEDL. Their responses and photos may be found below. CEDL also wishes to recognize Monica Nesbitt (pursing a PhD in Linguistics at Michigan State University) with an honorable mention for her high caliber application.

The LSA wishes to thank the sponsors of this award, which include Redfin, Arthur Spears, Marianna Di Paolo, and donors to the LSA's Financial Assistance and Student Support Fund.

Questions for the Awardees:

1.) How did you become interested in linguistics?

2.) In what way(s) do you think that linguists can make a substantive contribution to the society?

3.) Where do you see you see yourself in ten years' time?  What are your professional goals?

4.) What are you most looking forward to when attending the LSA conference?

5.) How might the interests and needs of minority students be better addressed in academia today?

6.) What special challenges do minorities face in academia today?

7.) What special talents do minorities offer academia today?

8.) Who is your professional role model?

Minnie Quartey Annan

1. I became interested in linguistics accidentally. I came to Georgetown University as an optimistic undergraduate wanting to change the world through government.  I took my first government class, and I hated it. It didn't make any sense to me.  The next semester, I signed up for a linguistics (I had never heard of the word at the point!) class that conveniently fit my schedule and did not meet on Friday (a luxury for a first-year student).  Little did I know I was walking into Ralph Fasold's Intro to Language class, and it was from that class I learned to appreciate my Southern accent and my African American Language.  I came into linguistics on accident, but I stayed on and with a purpose. 

2.  Ask any of my friends, students or anyone who will listen, and they will tell you that I truly believe that linguists are some of the world's most valuable people because we look at what is being said, what is not being said, and we ask why!  When I think about sociolinguistics and what it can do for society, I think of two things: a) advancing the interests of the underserved and b) preserving history and culture.  If one studies gender or race and language, it is usually done through the lens of the marked case (i.e. women or people of color). By doing this, we are exposing injustices and inequalities, and awareness is the first step to advocacy and change.  When I think about Black and Brown children in the classroom and the power of linguistic intervention and/or dialect awareness programs, their legitimacy as scholars increases because educators view their language as something worthy of study and discussion as opposed to slang and disability.  This moves the needle forward to help close the achievement gap by providing these learners with the opportunity to learn and be celebrated in the classroom.  Linguists help make that happen.  Additionally, linguists help preserve history and culture.  As most people are aware, DC is rapidly changing.  It is no longer "Chocolate City," and with a change to the people, there is a change to the language and the culture.  As a sociolinguist, I go out and collect these oral histories, preserving them for those who will follow.  Being in DC, one can already hear some of the linguistic changes, and it is our job as linguists to provide that snapshot of what was so that the future generations, and scholars, do not forget.  Linguists help make that happen.  

4. This is my very first time attending LSA, and what an amazing time it is.  I am look forward to two things: 1) the official release of the Corpus of Online Regional African American Language (CoRAAL), a project that I have been working on with Tyler Kendall and the amazing team at the University of Oregon for the last three years.  At its core, it is a replication of Fasold's 1972 large-scale study of DC along with other subsets of regional AAL.  This is the first publicly accessible corpus of AAL available, and I am so honored and excited to share it with my colleagues of the field.  2) While I have an understanding of linguistics, I think the conference experience, specifically LSA, will open my eyes to the vast amount of diversity in thought, research, and application of the field.  Learning excites me, and linguistics is my passion; I think the opportunity to meet some of the pioneers in the field, glean from my colleagues, and explore common problems in communication and understanding of it in new ways are what makes me like a sponge ready to be thrown in the ocean of linguistic thought.  

8. I have had so many mentors and role models who have influenced and guided my path, but I think I would have to say that Geneva "Dr. G" Smitherman is my professional role model.  Without some of the opportunities she gave me and skills she taught me, I do not think my graduate career would have been as meaningful and successful as it has been.  She taught me to think critically about what others castigate (i.e. AAL), understanding their reasons while learning to celebrate my own appreciation.  Her writing breaks away from traditional writing in all the right ways, and I admire, and often try to imitate, her inimitable style.  She took me into schools to let me see firsthand the inequalities that Black and Brown children face and how my research and advocacy could help change that.  More personally, she was a linguist who had her speech affected by an unfortunate situation, but that never diminished who she was as a pioneer in the field, as a voice to the voiceless for those who did not have access to sit at the table and as a scholar who showed scholars like me that writing in AAL is not taboo but rather a talent.  Last year I suffered a stroke, and my speech was affected, and therapy was really tough, but many days I would think of Dr. G. and push through, knowing that I still had something of value to say.

Kendra Calhoun

1) I was first introduced to linguistics by chance. I’ve always had an interest in language because I've loved reading and writing since I was young; I’ve also always been interested in humans' social behaviors and the ways we interact with each other. When I attended the University of South Carolina for my undergad I decided to major in both English and Psychology to pursue my interests. Within both majors I was able to take courses related to linguistics for electives credits, such as survey of linguistics, English sociolinguistics, and language sciences. Through these courses I met Dr. Elaine Chun, who encouraged me to pursue my interest in language and acted as my advisor on a sociolinguistics research project for my senior honors thesis. I had such a great time and learned so much about doing linguistic research through this project— an analysis of the pragmatic functions of and attitudes about ‘literally’—that it solidified my interest going to graduate school to study linguistics.

2.) I think that linguists have the ability to bring attention to social issues using something that everyone can relate to in some way — spoken language, signed language, online language, and the numerous other forms of communication that people utilize in their daily lives. In my experience teaching linguistics content to undergraduate students in the U.S., people are often not aware that language is as extensively studied and theorized as it is and/or they have not been exposed to language practices outside of U.S. or Western contexts. Broadening people’s understanding of language can broaden their knowledge of the world. Bringing attention to the complex role of language in everything from everyday exchanges to the ways that hegemonic institutions maintain power can alert people to the power of their and others' linguistic choices — for example, using “you all” instead of “you guys,” using metaphors to habituate others to anti-immigrant discourse, and how lexical, morphological, prosodic and other linguistic choices are part of speakers’ identity construction.

4.) My research is very interdisciplinary, so I’ve recently been attending conferences in other fields to network and learn about contemporary research in other related disciplines. There are usually few, if any, scholars with linguistics backgrounds at these conferences, so I’m excited to be at a conference where language—and issues specific to language and linguistic research—are the central focus. I’m looking forward to seeing the research and scholars from different subfields that are moving the field forward right now, as well as attending the various meetings, panels, and other discussions addressing issues such as race and power that are affecting linguistics students, faculty, and the field more broadly.

5.) One of the major ways that the interests and needs of linguistics students from minoritized and marginalized groups can be met is through representation within the field of linguistics. Without role models who have successfully navigated the structural barriers within academia (e.g., racism, heterosexism, classism) students may not have anyone they can look to as tangible evidence that it can be done and as resources for academic and personal guidance. Although many linguists advocate for the inclusion of undergraduate and graduate students from diverse backgrounds, the need for diverse faculty is equally pressing. Advising faculty can only speak from their own experience, and no single faculty member can meet all of a students’ needs. Thus, every student should be able to turn to multiple faculty members for help, either within their department or across departments at different universities. For students whose identities, backgrounds, and/or linguistic interests are not represented or are very marginally represented within linguistics, this task is especially difficult, which has detrimental effects on their career as students.

An additional need is for linguistics as a field—and linguists as individuals—to validate and support the work of minoritized students whose research centers on communities to which they belong. Although white/male/heterosexual/middle-class linguists conduct research on speakers from their own communities all the time, linguists who do not identify with these social groups are often criticized as doing “less rigorous” or “less objective” research when they study their own communities. Marginalizing this research simultaneously sends the messages that people from certain communities are less capable of conducting high-quality research and that they are not worthy of study.

7.) I think that students from minoritized backgrounds bring much needed perspectives to linguistic research and linguistics as a field. Linguistic research is rooted in white colonialism, Eurocentrism, English dominance, and other institutionalized ideologies and practices that have barred many people from participating in the field as researchers within the academy.  People from social groups who have been harmed by these practices (e.g., indigenous communities and other communities of color, LGBTQ+ speakers, non-English speaking communities) can bring a critical eye to linguistic research that many scholars from dominant social groups cannot see or fully understand from their own positionality as people who have benefitted from these systems. People from historically excluded and minoritized groups bring diverse epistemologies, methodologies, and linguistic phenomena of interest to linguistic research by nature of being “outside of" mainstream linguistic interests. Thus, the inclusion of students from minoritized backgrounds contributes to the advancement of the field of linguistics both ethically and in terms of research topics.

Monica Do

1.) How did you become interested in linguistics? The first time I thought about language was when a friend of mine asked me about my mother’s language background. Because my mother speaks Vietnamese, Cantonese, and English, my friend wanted to know “What language does your mom think in?” This was the first time I had considered how languages are ‘managed’ in the brain and I am happy to say that I have not been able to shake those thoughts since.  

3.) Where do you see you see yourself in ten years’ time?  What are your professional goals? There are few Vietnamese people and even fewer Vietnamese women in faculty positions at major universities. My hope is to change this: In ten years, I would like to be a professor at a competitive research-oriented university where I can direct a research lab that builds bridges between psychology, cognitive science, and linguistics. My goal would be to recruit students from across disciplines with different areas of expertise and help the students that I mentor become part of our community of linguists. Because I have also found teaching to be extremely exciting and fulfilling; I hope to be in an institution where I have the opportunity to actively engage with students through linguistics and psycholinguistics courses.  

4.) What are you most looking forward to when attending the LSA conference? I look forward to attending a conference that incorporates research from across the entire field of linguistics. I think it's important and intellectually rewarding to learn about research currently being done in linguistic subfields different from my own, so I look forward to seeing the potential connections between my work and work in other subfields. I’m also excited for the opportunity to get involved in some of the LSA committees aimed at improving the community in which we work.  

7.) What special talents do minorities offer academia today? I think that we should not underestimate the power of knowing “there is someone like me in this too.” Creating an environment of diversity in linguistics and academia offers future generations of students a way forward and provides hope to future scholars that there is a space where they can be accepted. If the goal of academia – regardless of discipline – is to create meaningful dialogue, an environment of safety and inclusion is critical. 

8.) Who is your professional role model? I have two professional role models: Dr. Gordon Stables (USC) and Dr. Elsi Kaiser (USC). Dr. Gordon Stables is the former director of the Trojan Debate Squad and current Associate Dean of Student Affairs in the Annenberg school for Communication and Journalism at USC. The only reason I was financially able to attend USC as an undergraduate was because he made diversity a priority: He saw beyond my undistinguished high school debate record and offered me a four-year scholarship to debate at USC. That same year, he co-founded the Los Angeles Metropolitan Debate League, an organization that builds competitive debate programs for historically under-funded high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has shown me the power than a single person can have on creating lasting change in academia.  Dr. Elsi Kaiser is an associate professor in linguistics at USC and my current advisor. I have worked with her since I became an undergraduate research assistant in her Language Processing Lab in 2009. Her patience and dedication – to her work and to her students – has shown me the kind of advisor that I hope to be someday. Without her support, I am confident I would not have accomplished what I have so far. 

Christina Goodson

1.) During the summer between my sophomore and junior years of undergrad, I worked in the tribal language department where I’m enrolled, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians. I had a pretty basic understanding of the field of linguistics, so, when I returned to school, I enrolled in a class about language revitalization. The subject was interesting to me because I knew many indigenous people were being faced with the fate of their heritage languages and I wanted to know what knowledge I could acquire to help my own community.

2) In ten years time, I hope to have produced at least 5 levels of Otoe language curriculum and to be raising a family with children that speak and hear Otoe daily. I also hope to work as a curriculum and program consultant for tribal language programs in the United States.

3) I am most looking forward to connecting with other indigenous people who work in linguistics and education and learning from them.

4) For me, it has always been the lack of a network of people of color/marginalized peoples in my field. I think minorities also need support from our colleagues because of the harsh political climate many of us exist in outside of academia.

5) I wouldn’t call them special talents necessarily, rather they are unique perceptions and insights into how we study subjects and view the world and systems.

6.) My professional role model is Namaka Rawlins of ‘Aha Punana Leo, a Hawaiian language school program. Her involvement with the school started when she volunteered as a parent and eventually, she became the Executive Director. Rawlins’ work has helped shape ‘Aha Punana Leo into a model for language revitalization in indigenous communities. I greatly admire her advocacy for indigenous languages and equitable education and her dedication to preserving and promoting the growth of her culture and language.

José Fernández Guerrero

1.) Pinning down when I first became interested in linguistics is difficult because I always found language's structure and effects intriguing. As a heritage Otomí speaker and someone who a crossed the San Diego-Tijuana border on a daily basis to attend high school, my linguistic environment was always being redefined. However, it was in college when I approached language as a complex system that reflects human cognition; I then knew I wanted a path in linguistics. I chose a path in linguistics not only because of the diverse puzzles that intrigued me in language, but also because I wanted to be an advocate for language rights and by extension are human rights. The more linguists- and scientists in general - there are with an understanding of social inequality the more we can make our research more impactful.

2.) I believe it is our duty as scientists of language to emphasize how language structures are shared in languages that are unrelated. The repetition of patterns in language highlights the interconnectedness and similarities that we often forget in day-to-day life. My working with language at a practical and theoretical level, linguists contribute to making sense of the most used tool of humans. Our impact extends from language pedagogy to artificial intelligence, thus linguists contribution to the world extensively.

3.) As I am currently applying to graduate school, I hope that in ten year time I will have finished my dissertation and have continued on for a position in the professoriate. In spite of fantastic people I have learned from and worked with, I only had one Hispanic/Latin American mentor in my engagement with language. I hope to become part of the new, diverse generation of academics, continue doing research, language documentation and sharing my passion for morphosyntax to future mentees. I hope that with my work, I will have helped at least one indigenous community in depth to establish their desired sociolinguistic curriculum so they may preserve their language and culture. As someone whose heritage language is undergoing a quick decline, I see myself continually making my work a personal, substantive matter. 

5.) One of the needs of minorities is to have role models with similar experiences. A diverse student body exposes students to different ideas, but a diverse academic tradition, professoriate, and research produces new imagined futures for all kinds of interests.  But diversifying the later stages of academic tradition necessitates encouraging and using privilege to help out the marginalized communities in the present. I am thankful to CEDL for allowing me to finance my participation to in the LSA Annual Conference, or else I would not have the chance to share my thoughts and learn from the current leaders of my fields face-to-face. Every individual has personal difficulties and structural disadvantages in fulfilling their dreams, so I encourage us as scientists of language to continually be aware of how to reach out the the disadvantaged.