Get to Know Your Instructors: Corrine Occhino

Corrine Occhino (Rochester Institute of Technology) knows how it feels like to be a gradstudent on a tight budget. Thus, we are certain that Corrine and co-instructor, Ryan Lepic, will make the Gesture and Sign Language Analysis course at the #lingstitute2019 is worth attending. Corrine is working on a lot of great projects involving sign languages while simultaneously raising awareness about the injustices within academia, hanging out with dogs at parties, and foraging for wild food. Continue reading our fun and totally relatable interview with Professor Occhino here:

1. Can you please tell us about your linguistic background?

My career in linguistics has been one stroke of luck after another. As a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I enrolled in “Diversity of Human Language” and fell in love with typology. Lucky for me, UWM was home to some amazing functional typologists, who were there to start me on my path. My good luck continued when I took a Psychophonology course and came across a paper by UC-Davis’s very own David Corina, on the phonological structure of signed languages. I got so excited about the phonology of signed languages being visual, that I signed up for ASL-1 (luckily for me UWM had a great ASL department) and that was that.

After completing my Master’s, I took five years off from academia. When I decided to go back for my PhD, the Linguistics Department at the University of New Mexico called to me. With Drs. Morford, Shaffer, Perrin Wilcox, Wilcox, and now Wilkinson (all ASL fluent faculty), visiting scholars from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South America working on their own signed languages, and an amazing cohort of hearing and deaf graduate students working on signed language linguistics, it was the best decision I could have made. UNM has such a strong cognitive-functional program and so much expertise in signed language research, I left with the perfect set of tools for researching language in the visual modality. I now am lucky enough to work at the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) Center on Cognition and Language at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where I am immersed in ASL all day, every day. I work with a wonderful group of Deaf and hearing collaborators and I’m continuing to develop skills and my knowledge of ASL every day. Pretty lucky!

2. When did you first join the LSA?

I didn’t join LSA until I graduated with my PhD in 2016. As we all know, being a broke grad student makes it hard to conference on a tight budget. Since 2016, I have gone to the LSA Annual Meeting in Austin, Salt Lake City, and New York City, meeting new people and learning new things every year. This will be my first Summer Institute and I’m looking forward to it.

3. Can you tell us about the course you are teaching at the Institute?

I am very happy to be teaching “Gesture and Sign Language Analysis” and even more happy to co-teach the course with my colleague/partner in crime, Dr. Ryan Lepic. We take a broadly usage-based approach to language, which has implications for how we “do linguistics.” The body, the modality, and the interactional, face-to-face real-time nature of linguistic interactions, all play a central role in our construction of linguistic units. We have planned a very hands-on introduction to analyzing complex multi-modal utterances. We will learn to identify, code, and analyze language use in all its fully embodied glory using videos and annotation software. We hope students will leave our course with an appreciation for analyzing language data from an embodied holistic perspective, and with the confidence to apply their new skills in future work.

4. What research are you currently working on?

My main gig is trying to figure out the grammar of signed languages through an embodied usage-based lens. I have worked on developing an embodied cognitive phonology, discussing what that might look like and how one might implement such a framework to better understand the structure and distribution of sublexical units in signed and spoken languages. A usage-based approach is also relevant to my work on gradience in the grammar of ASL and in my applied work developing ASL proficiency assessments for Adult L2 ASL signers. My side hustle is documenting linguistic variation in signed languages. I have a small grant with Dr. Joseph Hill at NTID-RIT to document phonological and lexical variation and the language ideologies associated with non-prestige varieties, in ASL signers from all over the US. I’m also working with collaborators in Puerto Rico to set up a project documenting Puerto Rican Sign Language which is facing encroachment from a new law mandating an ASL-based curriculum.

Finally, my collaborators Dr. Lina Hou, Dr. Savi Namboodiripad and I have just wrapped up our yearlong “Survey of Linguists and Language Researchers.” We recently presented our preliminary findings at the LSA Annual Meeting in New York City, where we highlighted survey responses showing who experiences harassment and bias, the costs of harassment, and what our community can do about it. Keep an eye out for our upcoming publications and checkout our website with survey results and resources.

5. In a parallel universe in which you are not an academic/linguist, what would you be?

Something like a botanist or a mycologist, mostly because I dabble in mycology and wild food foraging and would love to be an expert in something related to plants and fungi. Otherwise, if I knew how to run a successful goat based “lawn-mowing” service, that might be fun too.

6. What are you most looking forward to about Davis?

I’m looking forward to meeting the linguists of tomorrow. I love interacting with enthusiastic, open-minded students with fresh ideas who are truly excited about languages and linguistics. It really motivates me, both in my teaching and research, to have students who are curious about language and have interesting questions to ask.

7. Cats or Dogs?

I like dogs more than I like most people. Find me at the party, talking to the dog in the corner.

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

Read, read, read. So much of grad school is about becoming hyper-specialized, but many of the best-trained linguists are scholars in a more general sense as well. Read broadly, not just deeply. Read across disciplines, across fields, across time. Some of my biggest breakthroughs in understanding have come from reading contemporary work in Cognitive Science or Anthropology, or from reading turn of the century linguistics and language philosophy. Read about non-Indo-European languages and signed languages. When you do this, you’re forced to tackle issues that you don’t confront with the “big ten” languages usually written about.

My website:
Follow me on Twitter @linguischick