Dear Friends of the Department,

The 2016-17 academic year flew by in a flash while the Linguistics Department engaged in many exciting activities. Our faculty, graduate students, and staff were active and creative in their pursuits, including in research, pedagogy, and the administration of the department. Our undergraduates brought energy and excitement through their many undertakings. This year marks our second year to offer research fellowships to our undergraduates for the pursuit of an original research project of their choosing. Four undergraduates are currently being supported as research fellows – two working on linguistic documentation; one working on the historical development of English; and one doing experimental work on sentence processing.

Much of our year was connected to managing changes to our faculty via hiring and saying goodbye. We look forward to three new colleagues joining the department in the fall. First, as our new Language Learning Visiting Assistant Professor, Emily Atkinson joins us from Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Atkinson is a specialist in syntactic development in children and adults, with a specific focus on the resolution of syntactic dependencies. Savithry Namboodiripad will join us from the University of San Diego, where she has recently completed her Ph.D. in Linguistics. Dr. Namboodiripad is a specialist in language contact, with a specific focus on contact effects on word order phenomena. She has done significant work on Malayalam-English bilinguals and contact-related language change. She has also worked on emergent home signs among deaf children. She joins us as one of only seven Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellows this year. The Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellows Program is a bold, new initiative tied to the College’s long-range plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Following her postdoctoral period, she will join the department as a tenure-track Assistant Professor. Professor Natasha Abner will join us as Assistant Professor of Linguistics. Professor Abner comes most recently from Montclair State University and specializes in the syntax-semantics interface in signed languages, specifically Nicaraguan Sign Language and American Sign Language. Although she received her Ph.D. from University of California Los Angeles, she is a Wolverine at heart, having received her undergraduate training from our department. We are delighted to welcome her back home in a new and exciting role.  Finally, Carmel O’Shannessy accepted a position in the Linguistics Department at Australian National University. While we are so sorry to say goodbye, we are happy for her that she will be closer to her family and research community. I am sure you join me in wishing her all the best in her new position. 

As usual, our faculty achieved great things this year and I’m happy to highlight some of the most notable. Jelena Krivokapić has been promoted to Associate Professor of Linguistics with tenure. Anne Curzan was awarded the 2017 Linguistics in the Public award from the Linguistic Society of America and Marlyse Baptista was inducted as a fellow into the Linguistic Society of America (making our department one of the few departments with four concurrent fellows to the LSA).  Andries Coetzee was elected as Editor of Language, was elected to the South African Academy for Science and Art, and was named Associate Director of the African Studies Center at the University of Michigan.

Jeff Heath received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for his work documenting the languages of West Africa. Both Jelena Krivokapić and Jonathan Brennan received grants from the National Science Foundation for projects related to prosodic modeling on the one hand and the neurolinguistic components of sentence processing on the other. We are one of the only departments at the University of Michigan with faculty funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Institutes of Health. Both Andries Coetzee and Marlyse Baptista were part of competitive teams for internal grants from the University of Michigan Humanities Collaboratory.

Our graduate students also had notable accomplishments. Michael Opper and Will Nediger each defended his dissertation to become a newly minted PhD. David Ogden received a Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship for his dissertation on the cognitive resources necessary for the perception of a non-native accent. Ariana Bancu was named an Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor and Chia-Wen Lo received a Rackham International Students Fellowship/Chia-Lun Lo Fellowship. Jiseung Kim was awarded the Best Student Paper at the fourth International Workshop on Sound Change for her paper, “Prosodic accommodation as a driver of sound change: Accommodation in Seoul Korean Accentual Phrase.” Finally, two of our PhD alumni will begin new academic positions in the coming academic year. Harim Kwon (Ph.D. 2015) will begin as Assistant Professor of English at George Mason University in January 2018, and Mike Opper (Ph.D. 2017) begins as Foreign Expert in the College of International Studies at Southwest University in Chongqing, China. And on April 28, we celebrated with many of the undergraduate majors and minors in Linguistics who received their B.A. degrees at the spring commencement. We are full of admiration and many congratulations to all of our students for their achievements.

As my third year as department chair comes to an end, I’d like to thank faculty and staff colleagues, students, and alumni most sincerely for your steadfast support of the department. When I look around for what other opportunities there might be to make a difference in the academy, I find nothing more rewarding or more compelling than being part of this particular community and doing what I can to help it thrive. For that reason, I’ve agreed to a second term serving the department as its chair. 

Many thanks to Talisha Reviere-Winston for expertly managing the operations of the department, to Andries Coetzee for serving for three years as Associate Chair and Director of Graduate Studies, and to Ezra Keshet for serving for three years as Director of Undergraduate Studies. I couldn’t do my job without the expertise with which each of them has done theirs. Both Andries and Ezra will now be taking well-earned breaks from the administration of the department and handing their respective reins over to Acrisio Pires, who will serve as Associate Chair and Director of Graduate Studies, and to Jelena Krivokapić, who will serve as Director of Undergraduate Studies.

 It continues to be a privilege and an honor to work with such an outstanding community of people, and I look forward to whatever new adventures the coming academic year brings. If you’d like to join our alumni/friends LinkedIn group, send a message to and we’ll send you an invitation. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Otherwise, we look forward to hearing from you whenever your travels bring you literally or virtually to Ann Arbor.

Robin Queen