Get to Know a Steward: Carlee Coplea

For the fourth installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Carlee Coplea, steward for the Department of Linguistics, several questions about her life, academics, connections between language and politics, unionism and furiously sleeping colorless green ideas. 

carlee-copleaGAU Communications Committee: Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from and what brought you to SIUC?

Carlee Coplea: I am from Windsor, Illinois (population 1,200). I initially came to SIUC to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English as a New Language with a K-12 teaching certificate in the linguistics department. I decided to stay for the master’s program because you can pursue two degrees simultaneously with approval from the department.

GAU: Why get a Master’s in Linguistics?

Coplea: First of all, why not? Second, the staff and faculty for the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Applied Linguistics programs are extraordinary. Third, I attend classes with phenomenal students from all over the world. Fourth, I have always wanted a job that I could do anywhere in the world. ESL instructors are in high demand in elementary, secondary, and adult education. Also, obtaining a degree in Applied Linguistics opens up the path to pursuing a doctoral degree. Fifth, well, I could keep going but it basically comes down to the fact that I love to learn and linguistics is the perfect fit because there are so many interesting paths to follow or trail blaze.

GAU: Can you describe your work as a Teaching Assistant in the Linguistics Department?

Coplea: In the past and currently, I have been assisting professors with introductory and interdisciplinary courses in large lecture halls. I have several breakout sections where I teach how to apply what we learned in lecture to your everyday life and the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. In the spring, I will be teaching a small introductory class required for linguistics majors.

GAU: What do you hope to accomplish as GAU Steward for the Department of Linguistics?

Coplea: I hope that I can give my colleagues a place to turn if they need assistance, advice, or someone to just listen. I am a busy person but I am never too busy to listen.

GAU: Linguist and activist Noam Chomsky formulated a good deal of his ideas about generative grammar during his graduate studies. His graduate work – including his thesis and dissertation – paved the way for what is often called the Chomskyan revolution in linguistics. Do you have a future Coplean linguistics revolution in the works right now?

Coplea: Haha. While I respect his political views, our work in linguistics is very different. He’s a syntactician. Syntax is one of the main subfields of theoretical linguistics. I like to work in language acquisition and research in the field of sociolinguistics which are both subfields of applied linguistics. I would not call my thesis revolutionary but stay tuned.

GAU: In the book Language and Politics, Chomsky acknowledged a “tenuous connection” between his work in linguistics and his political views. He noted that he thinks “that anyone’s political ideas or their ideas of social organization must be rooted ultimately in some concept of human nature and human needs.” He added that his

own feeling is that the fundamental human capacity is the capacity and the need for creative self-expression, for free control of all aspects of one’s life and thought. One particularly crucial realization of this capacity is the creative use of language as a free instrument of thought and expression Now having this view of human nature and human needs, one tries to think about the modes of social organization that would permit the freest and fullest development of the individual, of each individual’s potentialities in whatever direction they might take, that would permit him to be fully human in the sense of having the greatest possible scope for his freedom and initiative.

Is there any loose connection between your linguistics work and political orientation?

Coplea: Sociolinguistics is all about the intersectionality of language. As a sociolinguist, I believe that all humans are interconnected through language use.

GAU: Italian linguist and theorist Antonio Gramsci, who was imprisoned by Mussolini’s regime, wrote that, “All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals.” What does this quote mean to you in today’s context?

Coplea: Social inequity is still very relevant. Gramscian philosophy and some feminist philosophies are often tied together because of their focus on intersectionality (like I was discussing in the previous question). Social inequity is what causes people to band their causes together and unite. That’s what’s so great about the union. It serves as a platform where anyone can share their experiences and locate how their life intersects with others’.

GAU: In outlining the “deeper truth about unions,” George Lakoff, professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote “that they don’t just create and maintain rights for workers; they work for and create crucial rights in society as a whole. Unions created weekends, the eight-hour workday, and health benefits. And through their politics, they have been at the center of support for civil rights and other social justice issues. In short, unions don’t just work for their members. They work for all of us.”

Lakoff has also emphasized how much of our thought is unconscious and based on metaphors related to our embodied interaction with the world. He stresses that “framing” in political discourse is key because words and phrases are defined relative to a conceptual framework. He contends certain “frames” can activate complex metaphorical schemes that shape how we understand language and the world. Do you consider language important to understanding politics – and specifically the role of unions in society?

Coplea: Actually, sociolinguistics, my current area of research, discusses how society uses language towards political aims. Any good campaign platform is based on same-side language use. When politicians support or oppose unions and union labor, they can support or oppose social inequity.

GAU: What are your hopes for the future? 

Coplea: Employment is always great but I would like to continue teaching and continue learning. I hope to pursue a doctoral degree soon and find an assistantship.

GAU: Do colorless green ideas sleep furiously?

Coplea: Haha. You know, there are a variety of interesting linguists (some of whom you highlighted) but it seems that Chomsky always gets the spotlight. To answer the question, it probably depends on how you feel about linguistic relativity and universal grammar. 

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