July 12, 2017

Welcome back, Derek!

Derek Denis (BA 2008, MA 2009, PhD 2015), who was away as a post-doc at the University of Victoria, has recently returned to UofT take up a tenure-stream position in sociolinguistics at the Mississauga campus. Here's an interview with Derek! Topics:
  1. His research
  2. Toronto for research on variation and change
  3. Being grounded in one institution
  4. Getting a tenure-stream job
  5. Involvement at St. George campus
  6. Supervising and collaborating with graduate students
  7. If linguistics didn't exist...
Questions and answers:

1. How would you introduce your research to someone who isn't familiar with linguistics?

All of my research falls under the very large umbrella of trying to understand the what, how, who, and why of language change. I mostly work on Canadian English and primarily use variationist sociolinguistic methods. I'm mostly interested in morphosyntactic and discourse-pragmatic phenomenon such as 'eh' but I've also done sociophonetic research as well.

2. What makes Toronto a compelling place to carry out research on language variation/change?

Toronto is one of the most multicultural and multilingual cities in the world. This is obviously of great benefit for linguists because it means we can almost always find a native speaker of a language locally. It also means that we can study the heritage varieties of these languages outside of a homeland setting, as Naomi has been doing. I’m most interested in understanding the effect that having a population in which more than 50% of people speak a language other than English has on Toronto English. We have a very detailed understanding of ‘old line’, middle class, settler colonial English from Sali’s Toronto English Archive, but there are other things going on in communities that are predominantly composed of first generation Canadians and who predominantly interact with first generation Canadians. In London, Jenny Cheshire, Paul Kerswill and their colleagues have found that in such scenarios a unique kind of multiethnolectal dialect can form. I suspect that we have something like that developing in Toronto and I'd like to try to document it and understand how it came about and where it's going.

3. You've done three degrees at UofT, and now you're back for a job. What are the benefits of being so grounded in one institution? Has it posed any problems or challenges?

The number one benefit of being back at UofT in a faculty position is the amazing students, both graduate students and undergraduate students. I plan to involve students in my research at all stages. I don't think there's anything wrong with doing what I did... everyone is different. I'm exactly where I want to be so my path worked for me. The only challenge I can think of is that I'll have to find something to occupy my Thursday nights since I won't be able to go to pub night anymore!

4. Will having a tenure-stream job change the way that you plan your research, such as the scale or time-frame of research projects that you start?

Having a permanent position and the resources available to tenure-stream faculty will definitely allow me to implement my bigger ideas!

5. Your main appointment is in Mississauga—how will you be involved in St. George?

I’ll be a member of the graduate faculty which will mean I'll occasionally teach graduate courses and can be the supervisor or a committee member on forum papers, GPs, and dissertations.  This year I'll be co-coordinating Junior Forum with Susana as well. I plan to be in Sid Smith most Fridays for research group meetings. I’m always happy to talk to whoever about variation, change, sociolinguistics, stats, and really pretty much anything else people in the department are working on or thinking about!

6. For the graduate students reading this, what kind of projects would you be interested in supervising or collaborating on?

Once my project on Toronto multiethnolects gets underway, there should be lots of opportunities for graduate students to be involved in that project. I'd be happy to supervise any project using variationist sociolinguistic methods including projects on languages other than English and understudied varieties of English worldwide. I'm also interested in supervising or co-supervising historical or experimental work. One of my more recent interests is understanding the role of settler colonialism in the development of Englishes around the world including Canadian English and I'd be more than happy to chat with anyone who's thinking about Settler-Indigenous relationships in terms of language (or otherwise).

7. If linguistics didn't exist, what other academic field or career path would you have liked to explore or go into?

When I was 10, I was a huge fan of the Stargate movie, which made me want to be an (crypto-)Egyptologist. In grade 7, I wrote a report on what educational path I’d need to take to achieve that goal. Funnily enough, I ended up following parts of that path in a lot of ways. What I didn’t get into was physical anthropology and archaeology. I think if I didn’t become a linguist and stayed in academia, I’d have gotten into the study of prehistroical population migrations either from the archaeological or genetic side of things. One thing I love about teaching historical linguistics is that I get think about that kind of stuff. 

If I wasn’t in academia, I would own and operate a small coffee shop and roastery called svartr --- Old Norse for 'black', like how I take my coffee. That’s always been the back-up plan.

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