Rising Stars: Meet Loretta Gasparini!

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 happy to share the work of Loretta Gasparini. Loretta is a polyglot world traveler with an exceptionally strong interest in language and how different groups and individuals use it. She is one of the most active students in the highly selective EU-wide joint-degree EMCL+ Master’s program in clinical linguistics. Without further ado…

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Loretta Gasparini

I have always been interested in languages and studied both German and Italian in secondary school, but my passion for Linguistics arose when I began studying German through my Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne. I became fascinated with English and German’s common ancestry and how this can be seen in the similarities of their vocabularies and so I completed a double major in German and Linguistics/Applied Linguistics. I went on to undertake an Honours degree in which I wrote a thesis under the supervision of Dr Barbara Kelly, examining the narratives of 4- and 6-year-old Australian children and how they temporally related, evaluated and structured events in their narratives. During my Honours degree I also completed a coursework subject in which we studied the application of qualitative methods in the context of “communication in healthcare settings”. In my final paper I applied adapted Conversation Analysis techniques to analyse the collected audio- recordings of genetic consultations and explore how clinical geneticists overcome asymmetrical knowledge states or differences in opinions with their clients, the parents of children with undiagnosed developmental disorder. After support from and collaboration with my teachers Professor Lesley Stirling and Dr Jean Paul, in June 2017 I presented this paper at the Communication, Medicine and Ethics (COMET) Conference at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis.

After graduating from my Honours degree in 2016 I worked as a Research Assistant in the School of Languages and Linguistics (University of Melbourne), transcribing and coding videos for research on family interactions and pretend play in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as well as transcribing interviews for sociolinguistic research on Irish and Chinese migrants’ adoption of Australian English. In 2018 I worked at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute as the Data Partnerships Research Assistant of Generation Victoria (GenV), a longitudinal study planned to commence in 2021 as one of the world’s largest birth cohorts, making use of existing bio-specimens and health, education and social data. My tasks included consulting with experts and finding relevant research articles to identify and collate the core exposures and outcomes necessary for epidemiological research. In order to determine how GenV could capture such data, I also scoped and documented relevant state and federal government and health data sources to gain an understanding in how different data sources and custodians interrelate in the context of using population data for public-good research and policy development.

These various experiences working amongst the intersections of language, education, health, development and research ethics highlighted to me the importance of interdisciplinary, holistic research. As such, in September 2018 I commenced the Erasmus+ Mundus Joint Master Degree programme in Clinical Linguistics (EMCL+), which entails completing one semester each at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, University of Groningen and University of Potsdam respectively, followed by an internship at a partner institution. During my first semester I gained skills in research methods, statistical analysis, programming and speech analysis methods, and now in my second semester we are focussing on agrammatic aphasia and language testing during awake brain surgery. I am excited to continue this degree

as I pursue a career in academia. Currently my main interests include pragmatic and discourse competence in individuals with language and communication difficulties, such as ASD, schizophrenia or aphasia, as well as understanding how semantic networks are cognitively represented with respect to prelinguistic conceptual knowledge. I hope to continue working in research in ways that inform speech and language therapists, educators and policymakers who have the opportunity to create change in healthcare, education, childcare and community.

In my personal life I have been able to take advantage of my interest in languages, including living for a year in Berlin during my undergraduate degree while I studied German, and a few years later traveling in South America, in which time I challenged myself to learn Spanish. By doing so, I was certainly able to gain more cultural and social opportunities that are available when living or traveling in a foreign country. Indeed, recognising how my access to languages and literacy over my lifetime has provided me with various academic, professional and personal opportunities underpins my ongoing motivation to work in areas that improve individuals’ access to language and literacy, whether that be through therapy, education, community resources or otherwise. The field of Linguistics is in perfect stead to support such initiatives, as the way to give a voice to oppressed individuals and groups is to literally give them a voice. This can include conducting research in speech and language disorders and developing therapy and educational programs to assist affected individuals achieve communicative effectiveness for their personal and professional lives; or supporting language revival projects, especially for Indigenous communities worldwide (for example, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages). While linguists have much to offer in these areas, I believe it is important to remember that we also have a lot to learn. I hope to see the research field continue to guide and be guided (methodologically and content-wise) by other disciplines such as psychology, medicine, statistics and philosophy, as well as non-academic expertise: disability activists, Indigenous folks, community groups and others who have a stake in our work.

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