Christina Esposito, Linguistics Professor and Chair

What do you teach? Introduction to Linguistics; The Sounds of World Languages; Experimental Linguistics; Field Methods; and The Human Voice.

Why linguistics? I was an unusual child. I loved to read dictionaries and the last page of my dictionary had a list of comparable words in different languages—English, Mandarin, Swahili, and others. I noticed right away that the words for “mom” and “dad” were similar in many languages and I wanted to know why.

I was a first-generation college student, so I was learning my way around academic disciplines. I took a course in linguistics and by the second week, I knew this was the thing I loved. I had always been a linguist, but I hadn’t known linguistics was a thing. That light bulb moment was transformational.

Why teach? Because I love to see that light bulb moment happen for my students. We are a small department, so we really get to know our students and it’s wonderful to see them grow and take on research on the things that interest them. When they go abroad, I follow their blogs and we g-chat.

Do you speak multiple languages? I’m a native speaker of English, conversational in Spanish, and learning White Hmong. I grew up hearing Italian from older relatives, but never learned to speak it, though I could translate for my younger sister. My specialty is not learning languages, but understanding the sounds of language and how human beings articulate those sounds.

What are your classes like? We don’t use a textbook, but read journal articles in linguistics and chapters from popular books such as Eats, Shoots & Leaves and The Language Instinct. In my Sounds of World Languages course, we learn how to pronounce any sound found in any spoken language of the world, whether you understand that language or not.

In Experimental Linguistics, one of the popular activities is learning how sounds are made by painting our tongues with a mixture of olive oil and charcoal. When we make a certain sound, say “T,” it leaves a mark that shows us where in the mouth that sound is made.

Students conduct individual research in areas they are interested in. Last year, for example, there was a term paper on the tones in Mandarin and another study of whether or not you can tell if a person is bisexual by how they speak.

Do you have a specific research interest? I study Zapotec (from Mexico); Gujarati (from India) and Hmong (from Southeast Asia). While they originated in different parts of the world, the languages have many similar sounds including “breathy” like Marilyn Monroe and the creakiness of vocal fry.

What do you do for fun? More linguistics! I also like to cook and sew and do little kid things with my three-year-old.

Advice for new students? Don’t feel like you have to have a specific question to stop by during office hours—or anytime my door is open. It’s okay to just talk and get acquainted.

Also, this is your one chance to be an undergrad and immerse yourself in the liberal arts. Spend those four years doing what you love and you’ll never be bored.

September 28 2017

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