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Interview COM2019 keynote speaker: M. Carmen Parafita Couto

Summer has only just started but before you know it September (and COM2019) will be here! In order to get to know our keynote speakers, we are introducing them by means of short interviews. First up is M. Carmen Parafita Couto from the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics.

Please introduce yourself

My name is María del Carmen (usually written as M. Carmen) Parafita Couto. I pursued doctoral studies in syntactic theory at the University of Kansas (USA), and then broadened my approach to include bilingualism and language contact in my research programme when I joined the corpus-based research group, led by Margaret Deuchar, at the ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice (Bangor, Wales). Since 2013, I have been working at the Leiden University Center for Linguistics (LUCL), where I teach courses on language variation and bilingualism, mainly focused on the Hispanic and Lusophone world, in the Latin American Studies Programme. To this end, Antje Muntendam and I started the biannual conference series Bilingualism in the Hispanic and Lusophone World in 2015. The last one was held here in Leiden earlier this year and the next one will take place in Puebla (Mexico) in 2021. Together with Janet Grijzenhout and Deniz Tat, we set up the Heritage Linguistics Lab (Herling), a platform for research about heritage languages spoken in the Netherlands, with a focus on Turkish, Bahasa Indonesia, Spanish, Papiamento, Berber, Arabic and German. Herling aims to bridge the gap between scientific research and language communities.

I am also one of the editors of the new book series Current Issues in Bilingualism (CIB) (Language Science Press). We are accepting proposals!

Can you tell us what your research is about and why is it important?

Most of my current research is devoted to the understanding of code-switching (the use of elements from different grammatical systems in one utterance) and to the evaluation of competing theoretical accounts of this complex and fascinating phenomenon. The linguistic study of code-switching shows that it does not occur at random. Therefore, the study of this phenomenon can tell us much about the language faculty more generally. In my research, I survey the code-switching patterns that emerge across multilingual communities (for ex. Spanish-English, Welsh-English, Basque-Spanish or Papiamento-Dutch). I also strive to use a multimethod, comparative approach that links linguistic, psycholinguistic and social factors. To this end, in January 2018, together with Margaret Deuchar, Antje Muntendam, Pieter Muysken and Guillaume Thierry, we organized a workshop to instigate a thorough theoretical-methodological reflection about these issues: Key Debates in Code-Switching Research: Methodological and Theoretical Considerations. With the same aim in mind, Amaia Munarriz, Emma vanden Wyngaerd and I edited a special issue of Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism devoted to methodologies for  intrasentential code-switching research.

What are your expectations of COM2019?

I hope that COM2019 will make multilingualism research more visible in Leiden and Europe. I expect to see multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches (both theoretically and methodologically), as well as a broad range of multilingual situations. I also hope that new collaborations will be forged.

And finally, what are you particularly proud of in terms of your research career?

What makes me most proud is something I contributed to when I joined the corpus-based group at the ESRC Bilingualism Centre at Bangor university: the creation of three conversational corpora (Spanish-English in Miami, Welsh-English in northern Wales and Spanish-Welsh in Patagonia), now available in the public domain at BangorTalk. More accessible corpora of this kind are needed, as they allow us to see what patterns are produced “in the wild” and they also constitute a good basis for further experimental work. To this end, LUCL has supported an initiative by Felix Ameka, Nivja de Jong, Sjef Barbiers and myself to create a platform where language data generated or collected by LUCL researchers can be made visible. Sara Petrollino has also joined the team and we are hoping to be able to launch the platform by the end of the year.

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