Rising Stars: Meet Hanna Bruns!

Dear Readers,

This year we will be continuing our Rising Stars Series where we feature up and coming linguists ranging from impactful undergraduates to prolific PhD candidates. These rising stars have been nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.

Today we are proud to present the work of Hanna Bruns. She is a currently an MA student at the University of Bonn in Germany. Hanna is known by her Professors for being highly proficient at just about anything she does. These activities range from conducting her own research studies, presenting at conferences nationally and internationally, writing term papers/blog articles to even helping coordinate her University’s Empirical Research Centre. Did we mention that she is a big fan of the color pink? Well, the list goes on but we won’t keep you waiting…

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I think my journey into the world of linguistics is a very typical one: I started studying my B.A. in English without ever having heard the term ‘linguistics’ but quickly realised that the field is able to answer questions which I had already been thinking about for years. In Bonn, where I am currently doing my M.A. in Applied Linguistics, I have been very lucky to find people who support me and my ideas and who are just as excited about researching language as I am. Because of this, I have been able to travel to several conferences, present my work, and network with great scholars. Moreover, I have been encouraged to develop my skills and find out which topics interest me.

If there is one main conclusion which I have drawn from my studies this far, it is the following: While language is all around us and one of the most important features that define each person’s life, most people do not pay attention to it and the way they use it! So they are oblivious to the power that lies within language, even just single words.

Language has the power to (re)produce stereotypes, and therefore discrimination, against certain identities, for instance women and people whose identity falls outside the normative ideals of binary gender and heterosexuality. This is why I am interested in language production at the interface of identity and ideology, particularly concerning gender and sexuality. While engaging in research on these issues, I have increasingly come to realise that, while we live in a very advanced world, people are still discriminated against based on their gender and/or sexuality. And language is a big part of that.

Which other reason could there be for the fact that women still suffer from sexist verbal abuse every day, that (mostly) men are called ‘girl’ or ‘gay’ as an insult, that gender-neutral language is still judged as exaggerated and unnecessary, or that the US-American administration was reported wanting to redefine the word ‘gender’, basically rendering transgender people non-existent (per definition) and stripping them of their rights, only a few months ago!

These are only a few of the reasons why I believe that research into these areas is of immense importance. Currently, I am in the process of writing my master’s thesis, which is supervised by Dr Stefanie Pohle and Dr Lal Zimman. It deals with the topic of normative ideals within the transgender community and how they can be challenged, looking at YouTube vlogs from the perspective of positive discourse analysis. My research is largely informed by queer linguistics, an up and coming field of which I am convinced that it will gain more and more importance over the next decades as recognition of these social issues rises. Research in this area can guide us towards being more conscious of what kind of language we use in everyday life. Bringing awareness to the language surrounding these social issues is bringing awareness to the issues themselves. Furthermore, I am fascinated by language use on social media, since there is an interesting interplay of different cultures to be found, which are mixing in a new virtual space, forging new communities, and creating new (language) practices.

I plan on continuing my education by doing a PhD at my university, and I am hoping to be able to do more research into the areas of queer linguistics and computer-mediated communication in the future, since these fields combine both my academic and my personal interests. This makes the study of language not only my chosen career path, but also my passion.

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