Marjorie Herbert’s love of languages began in high school, where she studied French, Latin, and Classical Greek. After taking an introduction to linguistics class in college, she realized it was the structure of languages that interested her. For Marjorie, linguistics is a perfect marriage of language and science.

One of the requirements during her undergraduate linguistics program was taking a “Structure of a Non-Indo-European language” course. She chose ‘Structure of American Sign Language (ASL)’ to fulfill this requirement, and fell in love with the language, the culture, and the interesting theoretical questions that data from sign languages might help resolve.

This fall, Marjorie will begin her fourth year as a PhD student in the U-M Linguistics Doctoral Program. She chose U-M because of the great experience she had during recruitment weekend.

She loved everything the department had to offer, especially the caliber of faculty and graduate students that she met, “U-M seems much more supportive and collaborative than many of the departments I have visited at other Universities. I’m always impressed at how much collaboration goes on among the faculty members, especially since our department is representative of such diverse research interests. The fact that I could, and was encouraged to, start working on my own research project from the moment I entered the program was very refreshing. This also seems to lead to a great deal of student—faculty collaboration, which is always a valuable experience for students.”

Marjorie’s research interests include formal syntax, bilingualism, and language contact that involves one or more sign languages. Through the support of the department, Marjorie has been able to combine those interests, “in undergrad, I had an emerging interest in contact linguistics, but I had no formal experience with the subject. I was sure when I entered U-M that I wanted to do theoretical syntax, but I also wanted fieldwork experience. My current research project brings elements from all of those domains together, and I have Marlyse Baptista to thank for steering me towards ASL-English language contact early on in my graduate studies.”

In Professor Acrisio Pires, she has found an advisor that helped her explore different areas of linguistics, “The fact that he is so open to new research experiences, and actively seeks out collaboration on projects that focus on languages different from those he has studied in previous work, is the main reason I enjoy working with Acrisio. He initially supported my decision to specialize in sign language linguistics, something I had not planned on doing, at least at first, because he could see that was my real passion. Working in SLL can be difficult since it is a small subfield, which makes finding a research advisor who i) works with sign language(s) and ii) shares your specific theoretical interests somewhat tricky. Acrisio and I approach linguistic problems with a similar theoretical perspective, but he has not worked on ASL before. This has never posed a problem for me, and now I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work with Natasha Abner starting this Fall, in addition to Acrisio and Marlyse.”

Last year, Marjorie was awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. This award will fund her research for the next three years.

Marjorie loves the research she is doing. She hopes to continue in academia after she graduates.