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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program


Thor Sawin - Ph.D.

Assistant Professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Thor Sawin

Why did you decide to do an MA or PhD in linguistics?

I did my MA in Linguistics and TESOL at Michigan State University, then I taught English and German overseas for six years.  I realized that I wanted to be involved more deeply in the field of language teaching, as so many of the issues facing the world could be alleviated if people were able to more fully understand each others’ ways of speaking.  I choose a PhD in Linguistics over Applied Linguistics, because with a solid foundation in theoretical Linguistics, you can still get a good job in the field of Applied Linguistics.  Often Applied Linguists have a weak foundation in the Linguistics that they are applying, and the strong theoretical foundation in the field I earned in my MA and PhD have given me so many tools that I can apply to the different practical issues which applied linguists are concerned with.

Tell us about your current job.

I am an Assistant Professor in the school of Translation, Interpretation and Language Education at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, a graduate school of Middlebury College located in Monterey, CA.  I teach linguistics courses such as Language Analysis, Sociolinguistics, Applied Linguistics Research, and Second Language Acquisition to future language teachers.   Teaching Masters-level students is very rewarding, and I love the practical and applied focus of my institution, and its engagement in equipping language teachers to help solve social inequalities.

Why did you choose our program? Did you get what you wanted from the Linguistics Program?

South Carolina’s program stood out to me in several ways.   I loved that you could pick two fields of study to be simultaneous foci, and to have committee members from a variety of subfields of linguistics.  My dissertation topic straddled the boundary between different fields, and South Carolina was uniquely flexible  in supporting that interdisciplinary research.   Having specializations in both sociolinguistics and second language acquisition helped me get my current position, and I use both fields daily.   At South Carolina, the faculty genuinely enjoyed working together, and the collegial and supportive atmosphere was why the program was recommended to me in the first place.  I consistently experienced the faculty at USC ‘going to bat’ for me, and helping me and my classmates get funding and opportunities to grow as scholars.  I also got the experience to teach a wide variety of courses, including the chance to design, propose and teach an elective of my own making.  This is a unique opportunity which really helped me in the academic job search.   When asked during my job search “Why South Carolina?” it was easy for me to explain how the small department size, the interdisciplinary focus of the program, and the supportive attention of the faculty made it a very refreshing place to earn a PhD.

What is your favorite thing in Columbia, SC?​

Although I wasn’t looking forward to the city of Columbia, it really surprised me.  There is a surprisingly vibrant scene of young professionals and great venues for music, excellent southern food, and entertainment.  I appreciated having natural opportunities right on my doorstep (the RiverTrail, Congaree NP) and also an easy drive away (hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the beaches of the Lowcountry) as a break from graduate school.   Most of all, I appreciated how inexpensive everything in Columbia is.  My graduate assistantship went a long way in a city like Columbia, and enabled me to be able to afford taking advantage of Columbia’s food scene.