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The Making of A Fig

Maureen Matarese and Mary Sepp, Developmental Skills

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What can students’ gestures in class tell us about how they are learning English? What function does uncomfortable laughter have in institutional settings? What can students’ knowledge of certain word endings tell us about second language acquisition? What themes surface from the stories of students who have just taken their first trip to Israel? What is Ghanian English, and how does it vary from other non-standard varieties of English? These are some of the questions discussed in the Language, Society and Culture Faculty Interest Group.

After a long day of teaching and committee work, it is often difficult to switch gears and think about research. When we can think about research, isn’t it usually an upcoming article deadline or whatever data we are collecting? Rarely do we have time outside of academic conferences to think about our fields in a broader sense.

Faculty Interest Groups (FIGS) were developed to address these and other needs. The Language, Society and Culture (LSC) FIG was one of the first at BMCC.

The Department of Developmental Skills, which offers courses in English as a Second Language, Academic and Critical Reading, Critical Thinking, and Linguistics, has among its faculty a large number of applied and theoretical linguists. A few years ago the department’s Linguistics Committee (at the time led by Prof. Maureen Matarese and Prof. Mary Sepp) was planning BMCC’s first linguistics conference, which was held in May 2011. Former CETLS Director, Dr. Victoria Mondelli, approached Matarese and Sepp about creating a Language, Society and Culture Faculty Interest Group and using it to promote the conference.

The creation of a Language, Society and Culture Faculty Interest Group seemed like an ideal opportunity to generate interdepartmental enthusiasm for the field of language-linguistics in general, and to create a forum where we could share research and co-construct a broader body of knowledge through interdisciplinary collaboration.

We held monthly meetings in which interested BMCC Faculty gave presentations on language-related research. The first meeting took place on February 2, 2011 and the FIG is still thriving with a dozen or so members.

Presenters have shared research on diverse topics in the field, including spoken discourse, morphology, language acquisition, pragmatics, syntax, and linguistic anthropology to name a few. We have hosted nearly 15 research presentations over the last two and a half years, and most if not all of these were later presented at national and international conferences in the field. The Language, Society and Culture FIG has become an ideal venue for vetting research.

Members of the Language, Society and Culture FIG have worked to put on a conference each year. The first conference was a great success, drawing faculty, staff, and student participants from BMCC and other CUNY colleges. In April 2012, we hosted and organized the annual conference of the International Linguistics Association, a three-day conference which included three internationally renowned linguists as plenary speakers. In order to extend our collaborative efforts to our sister community colleges, future annual conferences will be held at different CUNY community colleges on a rotating basis.

The Language, Society and Culture FIG has been instrumental in preparing BMCC Faculty for academic presentations and publications, generating excitement about the discipline, and bringing colleagues from across the college together. We hope that you consider attending one of the many FIGs available at BMCC. If you do not see one that suits your needs, create one yourself!

For more information and events updates on the Language, Society and Culture Faculty Interest Group, see our FIG page on the CETLS website or join the Language, Society and Culture SIG (Special Interest Group) on the CUNY Academic Commons.