For graduate student Joy Peltier, an interest in language developed from an early age—particularly while growing up in Georgia, surrounded by a large, extended family.
“When one of my parents was on the phone, I could always tell if a family member was on the other end of the line,” Joy recalls, “because the melodies of African American English or Kwéyòl Donmnik would float down the hallway.”
As a young student, Joy took classes in Spanish and French and found that she enjoyed language and language learning: “Like most only children, I was rather good at entertaining myself, and many of the outlets I enjoyed (fantasy novels, choral music, creative writing) were language-centered.” It wasn’t until her sophomore year at the University of Georgia that Joy says she “found her home in linguistics,” adding that “the shift from a prescriptivist to a descriptivist perspective set my world on end, and the only logical step was to learn more.”
Joy earned her B.A. and M.A. degrees in Romance languages from UGA and joined U of M Linguistics in 2017. The strength, interdisciplinarity, and collegiality of the U of M program convinced Joy to apply, and an in-person visit sealed her decision: “It felt like home!”
With professors Marlyse Baptista and Sally Thomason as advisors and mentors, Joy explains her research centers on the discourse-pragmatic properties of high-contact and minoritized languages, like Kwéyòl Donmnik (spoken in Dominica), as well as of their source languages, such as English and French. Her favorite topic of study—since she first learned about it as an undergrad—has been pragmatic markers, for example, Kwéyòl èben ‘well’, English well, and French eh ben ‘well’, which are at the center of her dissertation work.
In her time at U of M, Joy reflects on many personal and professional highlights, among them her Kwéyòl Donmnik fieldwork trip to London in 2018 and interviewing Kwéyòl-speaking family and friends about their language attitudes.
More recently, however, Joy highlights the Creole Languages and Linguistics Teaching virtual workshop that she and fellow students and colleagues from the Cognition, Convergence, and Language Emergence Lab conducted in November. “The workshop brought speakers of Kwéyòl Donmnik, Cabo Verdean Creole, and Trinidadian Creole together with linguists from around the world,” recalls Joy. “I’ve never walked away from an event so energized and inspired.”
As it has for many of us, the pandemic affected Joy’s life in many ways. She’s been working remotely from her home in Georgia since March 2020. While she says it has been challenging to find things to do that are COVID-safe (“I’ve missed singing choral music like crazy!”), the activity she’s enjoyed most lately is volunteering for Learning Ally, a nonprofit that develops audiobooks for students who have difficulty accessing text materials. “I’m a Literature Narrator, and getting to act out all the voices as I record A Series of Unfortunate Events or Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea from my home ‘studio’ has been a blast!”
With respect to work, suddenly a second fieldwork trip was out of the question, and Joy found herself writing her dissertation from home. “Fortunately, thanks to a good webcam and online technologies like Zoom and Qualtrics, I’ve still been able to accomplish much of what I’d hoped to and stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues.”
Joy is thrilled to share that she’ll be joining the University of South Carolina’s English Department and Linguistics Program as an Assistant Professor next fall. “I couldn’t be more excited to join another excellent and welcoming community of language researchers, and I’m genuinely looking forward to this next phase in my career!”