Get to Know Your Instructors: Mary Bucholtz

Mary Bucholtz will be co-teaching the Language and Racialization class with Anne Charity Hudley (both from UC Santa Barbara). Their Institute course will focus on sociolinguistic justice, community-based methods, and epistemologies. In this interview, we learn more about Mary’s recent collaborations, projects, and many other exciting facts.

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

As an undergrad I majored in Classics (Latin and Greek); it took me a while to realize that what fascinated me wasn’t the literature or the history but language itself. After I took my first linguistics class, I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life. I got my M.A. and Ph.D. at Berkeley; Robin Lakoff was my advisor, and I also worked with Leanne Hinton, Sue Ervin-Tripp, the sociologist Barrie Thorne, and John Rickford at Stanford. My dissertation was focused on white teenagers’ appropriations of African American language and culture, and the issues that came up there have continued to be a deep interest of mine ever since.

My first job was at Texas A&M University, but I’ve spent most of my career at UC Santa Barbara, a department that has a strong focus on language use in its social context. It’s an exciting (and beautiful) place to work.

2. When did you first join the LSA?

In 1990, my first year of grad school at Berkeley. Larry Hyman encouraged all of the students in the incoming class to do so, and it was excellent advice!

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

My UCSB colleague Anne Charity Hudley and I will be team-teaching Language and Race, a topic that’s been central to our research and teaching throughout our respective careers. Although we’ve been too busy with our current collaboration (see below) to confer much about what the class will look like, I think it’s safe to say that it will have a strong focus on social and sociolinguistic justice as well as on community-based methods and epistemologies.

4. What research are you currently working on?

Much of my work these days is collaborative in nature. I have a lot of things going on, so I’ll just mention a few of my larger projects.

First, Anne Charity Hudley and I, along with a team of amazing grad students, are currently co-directing an undergraduate research program, UCSB-HBCU Scholars in Linguistics, that brings together UCSB undergrads with students from HBCUs and other colleges and universities to do collaborative community-based research on the linguistic and cultural experiences of Black undergraduates on college campuses. Black college students are understudied in sociolinguistics, so we’re very excited about this new project.

I’m also collaborating with another UCSB colleague, Eric Campbell, and a different team of equally amazing grad students, on a community-based project to support the home languages of indigenous Mexican immigrants and their families in California; we’re mostly focusing on varieties of Mixtec and Zapotec. My contribution to the project involves working with youth to conduct original research and community action projects on language in their lives, cultures, and communities, as part of an academic outreach/social justice program that I co-direct, School Kids Investigating Language in Life and Society.

Finally, I’m trying to wrap up a volume that I’m co-editing with Kira Hall called Parsing the Body. Each chapter focuses on a different body part (including all the usual suspects as well as some interesting and unexpected ones!) and its relationship to language, culture, and society. It’s a lot of fun to edit because every author has come up with a really creative and interesting linguistic angle on their assigned body part.

5. What is your favorite hobby or pastime?

Biking, traveling, being on (but not in) the ocean, going to farmers’ markets and cooking/eating, reading, and TV (I love talking about TV, and it’s also a focus of my research).

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

My Plan B if I didn’t find the right academic position was to go into academic publishing, so I think it would be hard for Mary Prime to step away from academia altogether.

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

Teaching at the Institute is always a lot of fun because the students have such wide-ranging interests and backgrounds, and the informal atmosphere feels like summer camp (but with more alcohol). I’m also super excited to spend time in a city that’s been officially designated a platinum-level bike-friendly community!

8. Ice cream or Cake? Cats or Dogs? Quarter system or Semester system?

Ice cream, but if pie was an option, then obviously pie.
#TeamCats all the way!
I deeply miss semesters, even after 16 years at UCSB.

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

First, don’t get your Ph.D. until you’re sure that’s what you want and need; a serious commitment will help you get through the hard parts ahead, of which there are many. Taking some time to find your focus, gain some additional experience, explore some research directions, and just live an interesting life will make the next steps easier and more rewarding.

Second, a career in linguistics isn’t the same as a career in academia. We need well-trained linguists in every arena of our society; linguistics can be connected to pretty much anything. Although grad school training tends to focus primarily on academic jobs, grad students should take the initiative to imagine the job they want and then pursue (or create) it.

Third, we need to work together to reimagine linguistics as a discipline. We can have a much bigger reach and impact than we currently have by pushing the field’s traditional boundaries, engaging with people outside of linguistics and outside of the academy, and learning how our knowledge and skills can be useful to other people (as well as how we can gain new knowledge and skills so we can be even more useful). Dream big, work hard, and don’t let the obstacles you encounter discourage you from doing what you came to do. Finding a few like-minded colleagues and mentors in your own department or elsewhere can make all the difference in helping you both to make linguistics your own and to use your expertise to make a difference in the world.

Learn more about Professor Bucholtz here.