Rising Stars: Meet Paola Campos!

Dear Linguist List Readers,

For this week’s Rising Star we are proud to present the work of Paola Campos. She is an MA student at La Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo who is currently working on translation studies (among other things). She has one of the most impressive resumés we have seen here at the Linguist List. For her B.A., she graduated with honors for theoretical work on the need for a gradual (and not categorical) consideration between lexical words and grammatical words in Spanish. Furthermore, she published at University of Matanzas, Cuba, a linguistic analysis of 6 translations of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman. For this work, the Faculty of History of the Universidad Michoacana invited her twice to teach a course on academic writing and later the municipal presidency of Huetamo, in México, invited her to teach the same course, for basic and higher level teachers in the region. The achievements do not stop there however as she has given 7 lectures at national and international academic congresses on various topics and has now joined as a professor at the Faculty of Letters at Universidad Michoacana, in México while working on her MA. Quite impressive. A number of other noteworthy achievements had to be left out in the interest of brevity so let us take advantage of that and leave you to read this great piece.

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Paola Campos

When I think about the future of linguistics, two things come to my mind. The first one, an unquestionable path traced by the actual technological necessities and, the second one, a path that I believe some of us, linguists, try to avoid sometimes given the difficulty of its study. In other words: there is a path that I think is definitive and will develop itself –even if I am not part of it– and another which I wish more of us could set a foot on: social implications of language.

Over the past decades, linguistic studies have risen noticeably. Particularly, we can see how computational linguistics have played a central role on the development of new technologies which are related to language processing. To give an example, we can talk about those related to automatic translation. Given the actual situation and the problematics that have come with the raise of the pandemic of COVID-19, I am sure that areas such as cognitive linguistics and computational linguistics will have a major part in the developing of new technologies that are able to respond to the current necessities of the world. We live in a universe that becomes more dependent to technology every day and, as social beings as we are, we are constantly being challenged to create new ways to keep track of our communication. In this sense, I believe, linguistic studies have an immense ocean of opportunities ahead.

However, I also believe there are another kind of problematics to which linguistic studies have to look: social aspects of the language. From my point of view, we need linguists who dedicate their work to the dismantling of prejudices and mistaken concepts of the language. For example, the belief that some varieties of a language are better than others, or that good pronunciation is synonymous with being a good speaker of a second language and, in consequence, having an accent means you are not, among others. All of them are beliefs constantly used against their speakers, they are used as a way of discrimination and they contribute to the perpetuation of systems of oppression which have true consequences in the life of their speakers, from psychological aggression, to social exclusion and even making it impossible for them to access to education or job opportunities. As specialist, we know that all of those beliefs are false and that they are based on a wrong conception of the language. However, there are still institutions that perpetuate such purist ideas of the language, who incentivize some speakers to discriminate those who do not follow the norm and, in definitive, who use language as a form of oppression.

We have treated language as a structure for so long that we have forgotten its implications in everyday matters. I believe that language does play an important role in systems of oppression, whether it is used against some speakers or it excludes some others –for example, by the use of the so-called neutral forms or the universal masculine–. Language represents a crucial factor in whether a person has access to education or a job or not; even more, language has been used as an excuse by some speakers to tell others that they have to leave a country. That is, by following some of these purist ideas, language can be used to regulate the rights that every language speaker is entitled to. The reconstruction of certain social structures or, to be precise, the questioning of the established social structures reflected in language, has brought with it some uncertainty in us, linguists. Nevertheless, it is our duty to recognize language as more than classes of words, rules, structures or, in a certain way, numbers.

Knowledge about the language is of no use if it is kept to those few who can call themselves specialists. Linguistic knowledge needs to be translated to an easier, simpler way of understanding. We need information that people can have access to and, consequently, that can help them understand how language actually works, as well as to understand how it can constitute one more element, another elemental piece, of structural oppression. I believe that there should be a future of linguistics which pursues a more inclusive and less discriminatory use of language. This is the path that I would like to walk on.

My name is Paola Campos, I am a Mexican linguist. My work has mostly been centered on word classification, polyfunctionality, operational linguistics and second language acquisition (SLA). Recently I have developed a particular interest in the social aspects of the language. This is because, since I started working in academic spaces, I have come to realize that mistaken beliefs about language still constitute one of the biggest problems that specialists like me and my colleagues have to work with, especially, because of their real social implications. However, social media has helped me see that this is not only a problem in my country, but rather a universal one.

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