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UVic News – University of Victoria


When Aliens Appeared Over Montana In The Hit 2016 Movie ArrivalCaroline Allen, a linguistics student at the University of Montana at the time, was thrilled. Only a linguist could save the day? Great Fiction.

Now a UVic grad with a master’s in linguistics, Allen might argue that the film’s premise isn’t so far-fetched: when the covidThe -19 pandemic arrived in Victoria and threatened to fracture its community, it was she who intervened.

“Caroline started working at the Sociolinguistics Research Laboratory in 2018 and very quickly established herself as a leader,” recalls Alexandra D’Arcy, director of the laboratory and associate dean for research in the humanities. “When the lab had to close during the pandemic, she actively fostered a sense of connection and belonging by hosting Zoom movie nights and trivia, which kept our team strong.”

Behind the scenes, Allen says the team helped her too. Born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, ongoing border closures and strict quarantine rules have kept her isolated from close friends and family back home, making times difficult.

The pandemic has been difficult in many ways, but spending time with other people who care about what matters to you is just plain good for your soul. Being part of this research lab was the highlight of my experience at UVic. I do not want say ‘it helped me grow’ or ‘it broadened my mind’ or ‘it made me a better person…’ but… it made. That’s actually how I feel.

—Caroline Allen, UVic M.A. Linguistics graduate

It also helped that his team was working on a fun task. In the Kids Talk project, led by D’Arcy, the group tracked changes in the way children (ages three to eight) speak over a five-year period, as a way of understanding language change in ways more general.

How language changes

“We know that language changes over time, but we also know that people don’t usually change the way they speak after the age of 17, so the widely held assumption is that children drive language change forward. “, says Allen. “It’s been assumed for a long time, but it’s never been directly observed, so that’s what this project aims to do.”

Allen’s personal research, which she conducted for her master’s thesis, analyzed variations and changes in the English language within the passive voice, from the mid-19th century to the end of the 20th – a subject can -be more esoteric than that of the Kids Talk project, but no less exciting for her, nor potentially useful for understanding how language works in a social context.

“So saying ‘the ball has been hit’ against ‘the ball obtained hit”, for example. My research showed that people born in 1865 said “getting hit” only 3% of the time, while people born in 1995 said it 60% of the time. It’s possible that 100 years from now people will only say it that way, and that’s what they’ll think is the norm,” Allen says. “People often criticize or make assumptions about the way other groups speak, but studies show that language variation and change are very natural, human and inevitable processes, and that these biases are mostly rooted in racism. , classicism, sexism or xenophobia.”

The most often cited example in North America is the attitude of white people toward so-called African-American English, a dialect of English that has been stigmatized and politicized for centuries.

“How language is politicized and weaponized by people who use it as a tool to hoard power is a question I didn’t even know how to ask until I started my studies here,” Allen shares. “Language always changes over time and from group to group; it is the very nature of language. We shouldn’t need academic research to prove that different forms of human expression have value.

Immerse yourself in communities and cultures

For her part, Allen is very much in love with the people, the culture, the community and all the joys of being a person in a culture within a community. Her love of the language, she says, was shaped in part by her time in a small town in West Bengal, India, throughout her teens and early twenties, where she was immersed in and captivated by Bengali language. It’s clear, however, that his true love is music.

“I love choral singing. I have been singing in church choirs since I was 15. I like classical music… and opera. And folk music. I love to write songs…. And I’m learning the violin!Allen said with jerky enthusiasm, as if realizing her love for everyone for the first time. “In a nutshell, however, my passion is ‘vernacular’. That’s why I love both sociolinguistics and folk music. It’s a matter of language and music that comes from people.

It is precisely this love for people and their diverse expressions that has made the pandemic so difficult for Allen – a self-proclaimed extrovert whose warmth and empathetic connection to others can be felt in a crowded room – and who pushes people to join communities to practice them or build them when none already exist.

In addition to her work as Sociolinguistics Research Lab Manager, Kids Talk Project Manager and Music Director at Abbey Church, Allen has been heavily involved in “numerous lesbian community building initiatives” on and off campus while completing his degree. This included supporting a lesbian newsletter started by a friend who found a trove of old lesbian newsletters from the 1980s and 90s in the archives of UVic libraries, and a football team not competition that Allen and a few others created together.

“In response to the pandemic, my friends and I, like many people, lacked tangible ways to connect,” she recalls. “And, in general, that’s the case for a lot of queer people who live in isolation, so we wanted to start something that feels like us.”

Now that she’s finished college, Allen will return home to Washington to spend time with her family, connect with old friends, and see what premonitions of the future arise.

Despite her departure, it’s clear that Allen is just one of those people for whom there is no single ending point – just a long, wandering, joy-filled journey filled with new people she can’t wait to meet and discover new mysteries she can’t wait to discover.

“I feel like I did what I came here for. I am proud of my degree. I am proud of my thesis. I pursued my passions. I acquired many transferable skills in quantitative research and project management. What will I do next? I just want to enjoy this moment.