Stephen L. Mann - Ph.D.
Assistant professor of linguistics, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Why did you decide to do an MA or PhD in linguistics?
As an undergraduate at La Salle University in Philadelphia, I majored in modern languages (French and Russian.) While I was studying abroad in Switzerland my junior year, I sat in on an introductory sociolinguistics class with one of my friends. The class was taught by Prof. Jenny Cheshire. I was so fascinated by the course content that I ended up attending every lecture for the rest of the semester even though I wasn't enrolled. (It wasn't until I entered graduate school that I realized how important Prof. Cheshire was to our discipline.) When I returned to Philadelphia for my senior year, I took a history of the English language class and wrote an honors thesis in which I explored the influence of French on pre-Soviet Russian. The linguistics bug had obviously already bitten, but I fought it for close to ten years before finally applying to graduate programs. The difficulty for me was not deciding if linguistics was right for me. (I was reading linguistics textbooks for fun in my 20s while working in middle management for a market research firm.) Instead, I struggled with finding a more narrow focus, a topic on which I would want to focus my energies throughout my graduate school career and well into the early stages of my academic career. As I became more involved with LGBTQ activism in my 20s, I came to realize that focusing my efforts on language, gender, and sexuality would allow me to bridge my personal, political, and academic interests. That realization prompted me to take the GREs and start the graduate school application process.
Tell us about your current job.
As of the 2014-15 academic year, I am in my fourth year as an assistant professor of linguistics in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. My primary responsibility is teaching linguistics courses required for English majors (especially students seeking secondary-level English/language arts licensure) and TESOL minors. I regularly teach "Introduction to Linguistics," "Modern English Grammars," and "Language Study for Teachers." I also recently taught an upper-level seminar on language attitudes and ideologies. Since earning my Ph.D. in 2011, I have had articles published in the Journal of Homosexuality and the Journal of Language and Sexuality and a vignette included in Mallinson, Childs, and Van Herk's Data collection in sociolinguistics: Methods and applications. I also have a chapter forthcoming in Cramer and Montgomery's Cityscapes and perceptual dialectology: Global perspectives on non-linguists' knowledge of the dialect landscape. I am actively involved in Inclusive Excellence efforts at UW-La Crosse, especially as they relate to LGBTQ students and students whose first dialect is not standard English. I have also served as a mentor for undergraduate research projects, two of which were presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.
Why did you choose our program? Did you get what you wanted from the Linguistics Program?
I chose USC for several reasons. First and foremost, there is the strength in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. But I also liked that the concentration in sociolinguistics was supplemented with in-depth training in formal linguistics, especially syntax and phonology. I teach a lot of syntax now, so I greatly value the breadth of the education I received. An important aspect of the USC Linguistics Program that I did not know when I made my decision to attend was the fact that the faculty treated me as a near-colleague from very early on in my graduate studies. I was certainly a student, but the faculty realized that I was in that gray area between student and colleague. That had a major positive impact on my socialization into an academic career. I also value the teaching opportunities that I was given. I taught multiple sections of freshman composition for several years, and I still regularly teach freshman composition in my current job. But I was also given the opportunity to teach upper-level linguistics courses, including courses in my own area of specialization. I will never understand programs that pride themselves in never requiring their students to teach; those programs are not preparing their students for the real world of academic careers. The majority of job opportunities will be found in teaching-focused universities. Those universities expect job applicants to have teaching experience and to be able to demonstrate teaching effectiveness through hands-on experience.
What is your favorite thing in Columbia, SC?
I love the hiking trails that I only discovered toward the end of my time there. There is the trail that runs along the river, another at the Congaree National Park, and one in Harbison State Forest. Being able to hike 12 months out of the year is something that I really miss now that I live somewhere where winter runs from November through May.