5 Questions with . . .Dr. Nicole Rosen

Dr. Nicole Rosen teaches languages and linguistics in the Department of Modern Languages. Her research interests include phonetics and phonology, Michif language, Western Algonquian languages, language revitalization, English and French in the Canadian Prairies and lexicography of endangered languages.

What first piqued your interest in your research discipline?

After high school, I spent a year in France as an exchange student, and that's when I started really listening to the way people talk, and observing differences from how they talked at home in Canada and in France. When I started my undergrad degree at Queen's, I knew I wanted to study languages, but normally studying a language meant studying its literature, and I wasn't sure about completely giving up math and science. I pored through the entire course calendar looking at all the program possibilities, and found something called 'linguistics' that purported to be the scientific study of language. I was hooked from the first linguistics class, and I knew I wanted to be a linguistics researcher, analyzing language in use. Linguistics allows me to combine my love of analysis and scientific method with my love of social observation and interaction. In essence, I didn't have to choose between math and literature after all: I get the best of both worlds in linguistics.

Nicole Rosen
Dr. Nicole Rosen teaches languages and linguistics in the Department of Modern Languages.

How is your research applicable in "the real world"?

Different aspects of my research are applicable in different ways. My lexicographic work on the Michif language has an obvious direct application because it is a dictionary that may be used by learners and teachers of the language in a concrete way. This work in language revitalization is also important in validating and enlightening others about a language and culture that has been ignored for the better part of the last century. My research on English and French on the Prairies can be applicable when teaching informal English or French: as it is spoken, by real people, not formally, as it is written. Most people, when learning a language, want to know how to communicate, make friends, and enter into a society that is closed to them without that language. Learning how people speak is essential to accessing society, not how they write, which can be the more traditional basis of language teaching and learning.

What is the greatest honour you have received in your career?

Academic grants are an obvious honour, and I'm very grateful for those, but my greatest honour, honestly, is the opportunity to do and study what I love. I get to work with fantastic students and speakers, and get to talk about what I'm interested in, and this is actually a job! I never forget how lucky I am that I actually love my work.

How important are students to your research endeavours?

The way I conceptualize research involves students in a very central role. My current project, in fact, is a result of wanting to involve undergraduate students. I've been interested in rural Canadian English since I was in graduate school, but now that I'm in an area where my students are part of the group I want to study, I can engage them in research and it can be relevant to them on a very personal level. I have undergraduate students interviewing family, friends and neighbours, transcribing, learning how to analyze language data, and learning audio editing, language archiving and acoustic analysis software. They are the local experts, I give them the tools, and we learn from each other. I see this blurring of research and teaching as my primary goal, in fact, where the goal is not so much "research" and "teaching", but rather learning.

If you had unlimited funds, which areas of research would you invest?

I would invest in an interdisciplinary centre to further the study and promotion of language on the Canadian Prairies, with labs and equipment for the experimentalists, databases for the corpus experts, and members from a host of related fields to discuss big questions: sociology, history, education, literature, psychology, neurology, speech pathology, computer science, etc., in addition to applied and theoretical linguists. Alberta in particular has a complex history and sociology of various linguistic groups emigrating over the last 100-plus years, seeking religious or economic freedom, and it has shaped the language(s) we speak in a particular way. These questions are as of yet largely untouched, especially in the Prairies, and in the rural context.

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This story first appeared in the April 2012 issue of the Legend. To view the entire issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.