In the spring of 2021, faculty and students alike gathered virtually for a presentation from Dr. Michael D. Picone on slave migration in the southeast. What many of them didn’t expect was to come away with an understanding of how it relates to a shift from French to English in Mississippi Valley all the way back in the 19th century.
This is just one of the numerous topics the linguistic program committee has chosen to highlight in their new colloquium series. Having first launched in the fall semester of 2020, the colloquium aims to present two topics a semester. The speakers range anywhere from a guest speaker working the field of linguistics, to Missouri State faculty, to even graduate students who are engaging in relevant research. The hope is that, not only will it provide networking opportunities for current students pursuing a career in linguistics, but also spark interest for the rest of campus and beyond.
“I think about the pillars of Missouri State University. When they talk about cultural competence, I don’t see language being emphasized,” explains Dr. Antoinette Barffour, an assistant professor with a doctorate degree in French Linguistics.
Currently, the Linguistics program is offered as an interdisciplinary minor, incorporating courses in modern languages, communication sciences and disorders, and anthropology. The colloquium series was originally intended to be an in-person event, where audiences could gather for informal discussions after the presentation. However, when the program shifted to a virtual format, facilitating these casual dialogues became a challenge.
The department also had to deal with changes in teaching methods during last year’s switch to online classes. Barffour describes the toll the pandemic took on her own courses. “I teach French classes and this is the only time they can practice their language skills. On Zoom, it’s not ideal for teaching language…at some point you can tell that some students are really frustrated being online and not being able to have that human contact.”
Barffour makes an astute point when she connects linguistics to sociology. “It is a gateway to learning about your own self. [When] we talk about linguistics we’re talking about how the language is used in society. We’re talking about language policy. We’re talking about language learning and teaching in addition to the culture. It embodies everything that is cultural competence.”
The speaker in September was Dr. Sarah Lockenvitz who presented her research on speech sound disorders, such as lisping, and how it relates to linguistics. Barffour is also excited for the speaker in October, regarding heritage language speakers and their impact on language learning led by Dr. Diego Pascual y Cabo. Even if you don’t study foreign language, Baffour explains, it’s still important to know language. “It’s beyond taking a course. It’s beyond the department. There’s no way you can avoid it.”