Sociocultural linguistics; language and identity; language and youth; language and race; language, gender, and sexuality; African American English; Chicano English and Spanish; language in California; discourse, cognition, and culture
Faculty in Linguistics.
- Ph.D, University of California, Berkeley
Language is an inherently sociocultural phenomenon, and so linguistic structure cannot be separated from language users. But if it is important to study culture and society in order to understand language, it is equally important to study language in order to understand culture and society. In a world of infinite diversity based on race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, social class, region, nationality, and many other dimensions, language provides a way of organizing social similarity and difference. In this process, linguistic features are not mere indicators of pre-existing identities but semiotic resources that speakers can draw on and shape to their social and interactional needs. This insight—that we are what we say and do—is one of the most exciting contributions of sociocultural approaches to linguistics. My own research interest lies in trying to understand how linguistic forms take on sociocultural meanings through their association with particular kinds of speakers, settings, and activities, and how these associations can be reinforced or altered in specific contexts. Through ethnographic and interactional methods, we can examine speakers’ own perspectives on this phenomenon: What identities matter in a local context? What ideologies about language and social categories influence speakers’ choices? How do speakers jointly and publicly engage in cognitive processes (thinking, feeling, perceiving) through embodied language use as part of social and cultural activities? To answer these questions, rather than examine a single linguistic feature or level, I prefer to investigate how multiple elements of language—from phonology to syntax to the lexicon—work together in embodied interaction, as well as how elements of language are represented ideologically through metalinguistic means. This sociocultural approach reveals the real-world consequences of language as a resource for social power and identity as well as for participating fully as a member of a culture.