University of Nevada, Reno English Professor awarded fellowship to research language ‘quirks’

College of Liberal Arts professor Valerie Fridland to publish book on speech and language

Frandsen Humanities building covered in ivy

University of Nevada, Reno English Professor awarded fellowship to research language ‘quirks’

College of Liberal Arts professor Valerie Fridland to publish book on speech and language

Frandsen Humanities building covered in ivy

University of Nevada, Reno Professor of English Valerie Fridland was recently awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship in the amount of $60,000 to study the English language and how it impacts speech. The College of Liberal Arts professor, who has never applied for an NEH grant before, was excited that she was awarded on her first try. Fridland will publish a book on English language habits, the history behind speech and how these speech habits enrich language.

“I wanted to make the types of work we do [as sociophoneticians] accessible to people that live language every day,” Fridland said. “The types of misinformation that we have out there about language and how it works can be easily dispelled just by taking the time to help others see language from a linguistics perspective.”

Fridland will use the fellowship resources to study online databases and travel to New York to work with editors and the publisher on the book project. The book is intended to be a deep dive into the parts of language that people find annoying or things people notice about their own speech. Research will unveil the history behind these language quirks and what it can tell us about why people say things a certain way and how it impacts language over the long term.

“As a Southerner, I have had people point things out in my speech (like how I pronounce the word ‘sentence’ without the medial ‘t’ sound as most Southerners do), and usually, there was a subtle underlying negative implication that difference or novelty was bad in some way,” she said. 

Fridland has always made a point to ask student in her classes about their language peeves, and she always received numerous examples. These examples and the question that follows – why do we say it like this? – motivated her to write a book on the topic.

“It has been a really fun experience to come up with ‘quirky’ or new language features to write about,” she said.

Fridland’s book, yet to be titled, is under contract with Viking/Penguin Press and is anticipated to be released in 2023.

“I am just hoping that this project is something that really brings humanities and social science scholarship to the public in a way that people can see how work in fields like linguistics, English, history and communications is much more relevant to their lives than they might think,” she said.

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