Rising Stars: Meet Tyler Kibbey!

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.

For today’s post we come to you with a great contribution from Tyler Kibbey. He is an MA student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Kentucky, a co-convener of the LSA Special Interest Group on LGBTQ+ Issues in Linguistics, and an affiliate of the upcoming Linguistics Institute at the University of California, Davis. His work applies Conceptual Metaphor Theory to religious language and ideology with the aim of mitigating anti-LGBTQ+ religious violence. His recent work has also explored the moral responsibilities of linguists beyond the descriptivist framework. According to his mentors, he has gone far above and beyond the requirements of the normal MA student. He has presented research on metaphors in very conservative religious language, on language ideologies within the discipline, and on the use of religious discourse in political contexts among other issues. Keep up the great work, Tyler! Now lets move on to his piece…

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In this historical moment, one of the most important areas of linguistics is the study of extremist language as it structures and creates systems of violence which affect marginalized groups the world over. New perspectives on the role of linguists as moral agents in society, rather than being simply indifferent observers, is breaking new ground in how the discipline should approach issues of violence wherein such acts are related to language. Specifically in the case of the many manifestos and articles of extremist propaganda that have found wider circulation in the modern age of communication, the role of linguists in attempting to understand and mitigate these acts of linguistic violence is paramount to the responsibility of language experts in contemporary research. Whereas humanity has a terrifying capacity, if not proclivity, for violence, the next wave of modern linguistics must seek to account for how language can be used to promote intolerance in our communities and to develop evidence-based programs for the pursuit of peace on all fronts.

In the coming decades, one area where linguistics will once again be required to apply itself is the domain of religion. Though the subdiscipline of theolinguistics has long since fallen apart, current research in cognitive linguistics and the scientific study of religion is continuing to unveil the ways in which language facilitates religious experience, ideology, and all too often violence. One current line of thought, Conceptual Metaphor Theory, is well situated for undertaking these tasks. The semantic representations of religious objects of faith, such as supernatural agents or deities, are often conceptualized as beyond the limits of human understanding, and thus, neither true nor false. Within various theological traditions, this has often caused doctrinal shifts between viewing religious language as either highly metaphorical or fundamentally literal, which has further caused problems for linguists seeking to place religious language within a bivalent framework of truth. This has also allowed individuals of faith to arrive at their own determinations of the meaning of religious language and conceptual frameworks. Admittedly, this is not immediately concerning at face-value. However, when the dramatic flourishes of religious rhetoric encompass the semantic domains of war, morality, or sovereignty, language can galvanize an individual’s perception of the world and allow them to justify tremendous acts of violence in the name of faith. Language is fundamental to this process, and it is through linguistics that religious violence can be successfully understood and hopefully mitigated.

This is ultimately the line of research that my own work assumes in attempting to understand religious violence, principally, and anti-LGBTQ+ violence, generally. Over the last five years, I have conducted critical metaphor analysis on white supremacist manifestos,  Westboro Baptist Church sermons, ISIS propaganda, and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the hopes of understanding how language facilitates these systems of violence, as well as their linguistic positioning within universal cognitive processes. As an organizer, I have also worked to promote LGBTQ+ equality within the discipline, founding the Linguistic Society of America’s Special Interest Group on LGBTQ+ Issues in Linguistics in 2017 and organizing LGBTQ+ Linguistics events at various conferences and institutions. In line with my research and organizational work, I sincerely believe that linguistics has the potential to effect real change in contemporary society and that together we can pursue peace through the study of language.

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