At the heart of my research is the idea that our language attitudes not only reveal what we think about different languages and varieties of English but we what also think about different groups of speakers. In other words, what we say about how someone talks or about a way of talking reflects what we think about that person or group. Throughout my academic career, from my master’s program through my current research and teaching, I’ve been interested in the connection between language and identity, specifically gender and regional identities, like Michigan’s “Yoopers” of the Upper Peninsula and “Hollanders” of Holland, Michigan. With my research, I hope to create public awareness about the links among identity, place, language, and language attitudes and their effects on those groups and on society as a whole.
I’m particularly interested the role of tourism and media in (re)defining cultural values about identity and its relationship to language and place such as meanings attached to certain languages and communicated on signs, souvenirs, monuments, digital media, and news accounts that can lead to new and/or limited meanings about place and identity. And it is not only what meanings are communicated, but also how particular languages function to shape these meanings.
To investigate these topics, I rely on ethnographic, historical, and sociocultural approaches to identity, language, and place combined with micro-level linguistic and semiotic analyses. The interdisciplinary approach allows me to excavate the context, history, and social interactions that structure the meaning-making processes that shape connections among language, place, and identity.
RESEARCH IN PROGRESS
How Much Dutch?
The project, How Much Dutch? The Linguistic Landscape of Holland Michigan, focuses on the intersection of language use, language attitudes, identity, and tourism in public spaces to understand their effects on what it means to be “local” and on shaping the identity of the city. More specifically, this ethnography explores how people create meaning through and with language in the multimodal linguistic landscape of Holland, Michigan, a small city and tourist destination on the shore of Lake Michigan. The project examines how language use in the public spaces that make up the city discursively reimagine Holland as a “Dutch” city. This reimagining affects particular ways of understanding larger sociocultural meanings about ethnicity, place, and their relationship to language use and language attitudes. Data collection will include written language in public spaces such as signs, menus, shop names, festival brochures; archives at the Holland Museum and Herrick Library in Holland such as news accounts, diaries, tourist brochures, and oral histories at the Holland Museum and Herrick Library, the latter collected in partnership with the Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University; participant observation at festivals, in shops and restaurants, and other public venues; social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; as well as websites and other electronic media advertising festivals and promoting the city. The project is supported with grants to fund two undergraduate research assistants, one from the Office of Undergraduate Research and the other from the Kutsche Office of Local History.
A project that I would like to undertake in the future is examining the language of tourism in late capitalism. In this this project I would apply of economic theory of late capitalism to analyze the role of tourism in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, with a specific focus on the effects of federal funding and the development of the Keweenaw National Historic Park.