Bilingualism and Multilingualism
Most of my academic and research training has focused on variable ways to analyse the communicative competence of bilingual speakers. As the product of bilingual education myself, I have often found it fascinating to observe and dissect the bilingual mind. That is, to understand really what are we talking about when we talk about a person who knows – or routinely uses – two languages? In my approaches to the study of sociolinguistic variation in bilinguals, I have observed the question of “competence” through Vygotsky’s theory of SCT (Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning) which views processes of the brain as fundamentally a mediated process, influenced by external factors involving cultural artifacts, activities, and concepts (Lantolf & Thorne, 2007: 201). Most have of my research has been conducted on competent, sequential bilinguals (bilinguals that acquired their second language later on in life, but are nonetheless fluent). I have previously conducted research at an undergraduate level in the area of crosslinguistic influence in German speakers of English under the supervision of Dr. Elizabeth Dayton at UPRM.
I am passionate about applying ethnographic methods to sociolinguistics research. As a Master’s student at the University of Edinburgh, I was lucky enough to sit through two classes by Dr. Lauren Hall-Lew, who had herself conducted a semi-ethnographic study of a majority Asian American community in San Francisco, California. The rich amount of detail that one is able to gather through ethnographic means of residing in a community and attempting to attain “insider status” is truly unparalleled by any other form of data elicitation method in the study of language. There is no better way to truly understand a language, how it works, how it is used, and its role in society than to actually go there yourself and be a witness to language in action.
Another positive argument in favour of conducting ethnographic fieldwork is the continuous acknowledgement of subjectivity: that, as researchers, we come with our own set of blindspots and ideologies of language that may have an impact on how we see an interpret our data, the people we contact to take part of our study, the tools we construct to elicit our data, even the linguistic features in question! This self-reflexivity is indeed one of the more positive aspects of ethnography, the accountability that researcher’s strive to accomplish. Ethnography strives to question not only what the statistical trends are telling us, but also what we are telling ourselves when we enter a community. It tries to counteract limitations of subjectivity by continuously asking questions, reaching out to several people, and attaining different sources of data beyond what is spoken to achieve a more accurate picture. Nonetheless, conducting this type of long-term observational data is not without its limitations, as much as it lauded for its contributions…
Sociolinguistic variation is the study of how “language varies and changes” (Britain, 2016) in society. People who study sociolinguistic variation often aim to answer one of the two questions (or sometimes both): (1) How do people use language in society (i.e. how are languages and particular ways of speaking distributed across regions, peoples, cultures, interactions, etc.), (2) Why does he/she talk like that (i.e. what is the social meaning accomplished by speaking a particular way over another)? Very generally, sociolinguistic variation looks at “different ways of saying the same thing”, some seek to answer the “how” question, others the “why”. This is the field of linguistics that I have found myself researching for the past five years under the supervision of Dr. Jeffrey Kallen.
MSc, Ph.D. research
Since 2012, I have worked on studying the English language use of Spanish-speaking island Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico is a current U.S. territory with a long history of language policy changes that reflect the historical maintenance and loyalty of many islanders to the Spanish language and the Latin American culture. As such, the island provides rich grounds for the study of language and identity to take place, as use of English – whether it be single-worded or constituent level – may provide information related to language competence, social upbringing (region, education, class), and ideological information (belief system, identities, and orientations). I am particularly interested in observing code-mixing phenomena, or the stylistic use of two or more languages in interaction. I also take into account – to a lesser extent – socially meaningful sound (phonetic) cues that make up these bilingual interactions, acknowledging that no language may be reduced to single monolithic description of “English” or “Spanish”, but that these concepts themselves are problematic and variable.
Areas of expertise
- Sociolinguistic variation & style;
- Language and identity;
- Language and ethnicity;
- Language and class;
- Linguistic Ethnography;
- Discourse analysis;
- Applied Linguistics;
- Second language acquisition (SLA).