Rising Stars: Meet Nick Bednar!

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 present a piece from the outstanding student, Nick Bednar. He is a senior undergraduate at the The Ohio State University who is known for his great work as a research assistant. He has completed multiple research projects with different faculty members including a sociolinguistics project involving eye-tracking and a language acquisition project on child communication. Since he works in a lab within a science museum he has spent many hours doing educational activities about how language works with the museum visitors and is known for doing a fantastic job at this as well. These activities are on top of the fact that he already does great work in his own studies while also being an amazing peer mentor. Nick’s list of accomplishments goes on but let’s get to the piece.

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Nick Bednar

One of the most important emerging topics in language science and linguistics is only adjacent to the field, a consequence of its existence more than a part of its own domain: public outreach and education.

Linguistics is becoming increasingly important to the public and the interests of those otherwise uninvolved. As we continue to develop new ways to interact with technology using natural language, as we continue to challenge the ideas of what language ought to be like, and as we continue to see more modern examples of language contact and change alongside globalization and new avenues of communication, good outreach will cement itself as a primary objective for linguists. Language should be studied for its own sake, of course, and not all future research need concern itself with social issues or the public eye. Yet it will be increasingly difficult to separate this aspect from the field itself. Linguistics can and should find its way into high school classrooms, the conference rooms of policy makers, and into the cultural zeitgeist overall. Not everyone will suddenly become interested in creating syntactic tree diagrams or discussing their language’s phonotactics, but they don’t need to; just creating awareness of the qualities and varieties of language is enough to begin addressing some of these emerging concerns.

In addition to public understanding related to linguistics itself, I also see the scientific study of language becoming a gateway to improving science attitudes, trust, and appreciation in general. Linguistics is inherently interdisciplinary and blended between the concerns of the humanities and the sciences. However, there exists a pervasive assumption that any given subject must fall into one category or the other. Using this middle ground as not an obstacle but a tool can allow us to persuade more individuals into seeing themselves as ‘science people’, and during the ongoing pandemic, this has become a more apparent need than ever.

Though my focus is still on language itself, this side of informal science outreach is just as important to the research I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with. One of the biggest, most important goals of the lab I work for, The Language Pod here in Ohio, is to spread the love of language and get the public involved with the scientific process. We have the incredible opportunity to be operating within the major science museum in the city of Columbus, with the lab sitting right inside of an exhibit and having glass walls that allow passersby to see the work that we’re doing. Researchers can study language with the museum guests as participants while also performing this public-facing duty. My undergraduate thesis work was designed to sit in this same intermediary space between linguistics and science outreach. Over the past summer, the BLNDIY Citizen Science project worked online alongside everyday people to design a full-fledged language science experiment from start to finish. The public suggested and voted on every step along the way, from creating a research question to experimental design to methods of analysis, and we were lucky enough to work with participants from all over the world. I can’t begin to express how exciting this opportunity and work like this are to me. It’s both gratifying and worthwhile to develop outreach demonstrations, new debriefing methods, and unconventional science education opportunities that can show people how wonderful language science is and how they can be scientists in all kinds of different ways.

There’s much work to be done, but in order to progress the field of linguistics and the perception of scientific work in general, I’m going to take that work up with more than a bit of enthusiasm.

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Our sincere thanks,
— the LL Team

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