June 30, 2017

Alana Johns' retirement: messages from some colleagues and former students

On July 1st, 2017, Alana Johns is retiring from the Department of Linguistics. A professor here since 1996, Alana works on morphosyntax, with a focus on Inuktitut. But instead of me telling you about the importance of her contributions to the field and to the people she's worked with, you should hear it from some of her Inuktitut colleagues and former students.

Michelle Yuan (BA 2012, MA 2013, now at MIT) - website

I met Alana in Fall 2009 after enrolling in ABS230—Introduction to Inuktitut, which she co-taught that year with the late Saila Michael. I was in my second year of undergrad and had no idea who Alana was or that I'd end up a linguist in part because of her. Alana has been an amazing advisor and teacher these past eight years, and it has been an honour learning from her. She's also one of the funniest people I've ever met. I'm extremely grateful to have met her, and I think the field of linguistics has been greatly enriched by her work. Happy retirement, Alana!

Michelle and Alana at MA convocation

Joan Dicker (Labrador School Board) - website

Dear Alana
Congratulations on your retirement
Thankyou for all that you did with our Inuktitut language
Thankyou for being my professor in the Linguistics MUN courses that I took
Thank you for giving me good marks hahaa
Thankyou for giving me the opportunity to attend a language conference with you way out to Flaggstaff Arizona even though the first night we shared a room, you kept me up aaaall night with your snoring lol hahaa
Thankyou for bringing me here to Toronto to take part in this very worthwhile Inuktitut language and linguistics workshop and to join you in your retirement party
Nakummesuak Alana Ai..SilakKijaKattanialikKutit uvlu tamât
Ilitagijait Joan Dicker

Alana and the group from Nunatsiavut at the airport for the Inuktitut Language and Linguistics Workshop

Joan and Alana at a Canadian Language Museum exhibit

Richard Compton (MA 2004, PhD 2012, now at l'Université de Québec à Montréal) - website

I’m very lucky to have had Alana as a supervisor. It was her work with Inuktitut speakers that originally got me interested in the language and her bringing me up north at the end of my MA that set me on the course to where I am today. Throughout my MA and my PhD, she was both patient and supportive, always having interesting and insightful questions and comments on my work. I also have fond memories of fieldwork trips with her and other students to both Iqaluit and Baker Lake, as well as a trip to Ulukhaktok that has led to a very fruitful collaboration with an Inuinnaqtun speaker on a dictionary project. From writing letters and reading drafts, to sharing ideas and encouraging me, she was always there for me and her other students.

One particular set of memories that stand out begin with a rainy day in Baker Lake with Alana, Midori, and Conor, when we were invited out ice fishing with a local family. Alana and I had decided to stay in town and work, but we walked down to the shore with Midori and Conor and watched them take a little dingy out to the ice. It was July so the ice was receding and locals were riding their snow machines at full speed to skip over the water between the ice and the shore. As Midori and Conor set off in the cold rain, I distinctly remember a bit of glee on our part that we could go back inside where it was warm and get some more sleep and a hot drink. However, their successful return that night, with two Arctic char in hand, convinced us to join them the next day. We rode by snowmobile over the still mostly frozen lake to a tiny cabin up a hill from the shore. There on the ice, in view of the cabin, but quite a distance away, we fished in pre-drilled holes with fishing jigs made of caribou bone. As Alana rode up the hill to the cabin, leaving Conor and me to fish, I’ll never forget her reminder that arctic wolves would be white and thus blend into the surroundings, so we’d probably never see them coming… Despite her warning, all survived—except a goose the children shot out of the sky, and then proceeded to make honk with chest compressions.

Richard ice-fishing

Alana ice-fishing

Taking a picture of Alana taking a picture

Alana and colleagues at the Inuktitut Language and Linguistics Workshop (May 30-31, 2017)

Catharyn Anderson (Special Advisor to the President on Aboriginal Affairs, Memorial University of Newfoundland)

I first knew of Alana before I ever met her in person.  When I did my first Linguistics courses at Memorial in 1996/97, I had heard her name as someone great who did work on Inuktitut.  As a young Inuk undergraduate student, I was disappointed to learn that she had left Memorial for UofT.  However, after I graduated with my BA, I went back home to Nunatsiavut to work with the Cultural Centre in the area of language revitalization, and I would eventually meet and work with Alana.  She invited me to collaborate with her on a paper for a conference in Quebec City, which was a great learning experience and opportunity for me.  This was the first of many times that we worked together.  I know that Alana developed many strong relationships and friendships with people in Nunatsiavut, and I am happy to include myself amongst those.  Alana, thank you for the work you did on Inuttitut, for your support of community language projects, and your support of the people doing them.  I wish you a very happy retirement, and all the best for the years ahead!  Nakummemagialuk, Catharyn

Julien Carrier (current PhD student)

Congratulations on your retirement and thank you for everything you’ve taught me! You are one of the reasons why I moved to Toronto to do a PhD in linguistics, and your guidance and all your support have been really helpful. May all the years ahead bring you joy and relaxation… and maybe even more time for doing research on Inuktitut! Wishing you all the best! Julien

Bettina Spreng (PhD 2012, now at the University of Saskatchewan) - website

What I appreciate about Alana is how approachable she is. I came to Toronto having read her thesis for my MA in Germany while not having much background in Generative Grammar. I was quite intimidated since I had understood maybe half of it.

She made me feel welcome and one minute into our first meeting, she had made me feel completely comfortable. She is incredibly supportive of her students and that is something that I try to be with my students. Her enthusiasm for her work and her trust in her students is something I admire very much. I will always remember what she said after I came back after taking a break from the program to ask her if she would support me finishing after all. She said "I always knew it!" I don't think I ever told her how much that trust meant to me. So, here it is. Thank you, Alana.

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