View from abroad: the Michigan effect
Viktorija Kostadinova, from Macedonia and currently a second-year PhD student at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, has just returned after two and a half months at the University of Michigan: ‘It was a truly rewarding experience.’
‘The US has a very strong research tradition in sociolinguistics, and previous studies of speakers’ attitudes, conducted by Dennis Preston, have shown that speakers in the state of Michigan consider themselves to speak the most correct form of American English. I wanted to find out more about their ideas about norms and correctness in language.’
What did you actually do in Michigan?
‘During the first month I attended five courses at the Linguistic Institute, an intensive summer school organised every two years, all related very closely to my field of research. On top of the busy class schedule, we had a lecture every evening during the week, and the weekends were packed with workshops. It was a truly rewarding and overwhelming experience. After the institute, I spent one month doing research at the University of Michigan libraries and interviewing people as part of my preliminary fieldwork.’
How does Ann Arbor compare to Leiden?
‘While planning my stay, I had looked up some information about the town and the university, and according to the numbers, I expected something similar to Leiden (population of 100,000 inhabitants, with a substantial student population). However, the differences were striking. The university obviously has a very strong presence in the town, which is readily seen in the university logo. Everybody seems to have at least one university T-shirt, and the logo as well as the merchandise are ubiquitous. I had the impression that students and alumni relate to their university in a strong, almost patriotic way.’
Library open 24/7
‘I spent most of my time in the Hatcher Graduate Library, which is one of the largest libraries in the US; their catalogue is truly outstanding. I had the impression that libraries were not only bigger, but more comfortable to study in. People can take food and drinks inside, and, especially in the undergraduate library, which was open 24/7, people have fast food while studying or take naps on one of the sofas in between study sessions. That’s something I’ve never seen here!’
What did you get out of the visit?
‘The visit was an almost life-changing experience for me, especially professionally. Attending the institute felt like an incredible boost to my knowledge of the subject, but also gave me different view on linguistics as a discipline. It gave me the chance to learn from some of today’s finest linguistic scholars and to meet fellow researchers from around the world. Doing my first fieldwork also helped me understand my research questions and field of study in a unique way, and it was really beneficial in determining the future course of my project.’
‘Personally, this visit produced a few wonderful friendships with people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and the relationships with those people will probably be the biggest personal gain from the stay.’
(16 October 2013 / Viktorija Kostadoniva / MLH)
Bridging the Unbridgeable
Viktorija is part of the Bridging the Unbridgeable project under the supervision of Prof. Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade. The project focuses on linguistic prescriptivism in English and the various ways speakers of the language respond to it, for example by consulting usage guides on language, to correcting other people’s grammar online and writing letters of linguistic complaint to newspaper editors. Viktorija: ‘What I am interested in in particular is how normative and prescriptive ideas influence speakers’ attitudes and beliefs about language, and how that in turn affects their language use in a variety of social contexts.’