Wil Gonzales describes himself as a “fourth-generation Chinese Filipino of Lannang heritage,” an ethnic minority in his home country of the Philippines. Growing up, Wil says this distinctive family ethnicity created a rich linguistic backdrop.
“When I was a kid, I was told by my elders not to mix my languages and to speak ‘proper’ Hokkien,” recalls Wil. “However, the elders themselves were using a mixture of Hokkien-, Tagalog-, and English-derived linguistic elements.”
Wil became interested in whether this admixture his elders labeled as improper – called Lánnang-uè – was a systematic and legitimate language. He took steps to find out.
During his undergraduate years at De La Salle University in Manila, Wil studied Lánnang-uè from the framework of code-switching. Later, during his Masters degree studies at the National University of Singapore, he received formal exposure to the field of language contact and realized that Lánnang-uè shares similarities with other mixed languages. Wil wanted to describe Lánnang-uè comprehensively and figure out how language-like it really is.
Wil eventually chose to pursue his doctoral degree at U-M, because the linguistics department is well known for its research on language contact and descriptive linguistics (as well as sociolinguistics). Given his specialized focus, says Wil, the University of Michigan was the only logical choice: “Fortunately, Marlyse Baptista and Sally Thomason were both very interested in my work and adopted me as one of their advisees!”
Today, Wil is a sociolinguist specializing in language variation, change, language contact, and documentation in the context of multilingualism. He is particularly interested in the interaction between society and language in the Philippine and wider Southeast Asian context.
To help answer his research questions, Wil employs corpus-based, experimental, ethnographic and computational techniques on diverse datasets, including natural speech data and social media data. He works on Sino-Philippine languages such as Lánnang-uè and other Southeast Asian languages such as Colloquial Singapore English or 'Singlish’.
Notable milestones in Wil’s research include collaborating with and leading two teams – the Alzheimer’s Disease Machine Learning team at the Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation at the University of Michigan, and the Natural Language Processing team of Digital Alpha Technologies headquartered in New York. He developed corpus-making and analysis programs using machine learning and computational methods.
In addition to research, Wil also enjoys teaching. He has taught and mentored students in the Philippines (where he is a licensed teacher), Singapore, and the United States. At U-M, he recently received the Deborah Keller-Cohen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching awarded by the Department of Linguistics.
Among his achievements, Wil is founder of The Lannang Archives, a nonprofit organization created to conserve Lannang heritage, www.lannangarchives.org. He also volunteers for the Linguistic Society of the Philippines (www.lsphil.net) and the Philippine Journal of Linguistics (www.pjl-phil.com).
Perhaps most importantly, Wil recently compiled the Lannang Corpus – a sociolinguistic corpus of Lannang speech – and, based on this work, Wil successfully defended his dissertation on March 10: “Truly a language of our own” A corpus-based, experimental, and variationist account of Lánnang-uè in Manila.
This fall, Wil will be joining the English Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong as an Assistant Professor of Applied English Linguistics.