Faculty Profile–Devin Grammon
Grammon identifies three pillars of his research interests: sociolinguists, language contact, and language learning. His research revolves around questions of what it means to know a language or to be a speaker of a language, which is linked to a broader platform of combating inequality and making linguistics and language learning more accessible to more people. He describes his interests as arising out of reflections on his own experience as a person who learned Spanish in high school and has lived and traveled in Peru, Bolivia and Mexico. He’s done extensive research on language contact between Quechua and Spanish in Cuzco, Peru.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently digging deep into a set of interrelated questions that revolve around the theoretical construct of sociolinguistic competence, which is about the ability to use language in ways that are socially and culturally appropriate. What is the nature of sociolinguistic knowledge and how do we implement it? How do we determine what is appropriate and for whom? What metrics do we use? These issues relate to my dissertation research and several articles I’m working on about language learning, study abroad, and heritage tourism in Cuzco. Lately, I’ve been rereading work by Oregonian sociolinguist Dell Hymes from the 1970s on ‘communicative competence’ that has helped me to problematize a lot of settled knowledge in both second/foreign language education and contact linguistics. So much of what we traditionally thought about second language learning rests on assumptions that don’t really match the reality we’re living with in 21stcentury. Globalization, mobility, and technology all play a part. People increasingly learn and use language in ways that don’t sit well with the idea of the ‘native speaker’ and bounded languages that reside in the brain. Through my work, I imagine what sociolinguistics might look like if we move away from essentialist views of language and society and ask who benefits from viewing language and competence in particular ways. I feel encouraged to engage those lines of inquiry here at UO.
How did you come to be interested in sociolinguistics?
I got interested in sociolinguistics through studying Spanish. I took Spanish on a whim in high school, as one of several options to fulfill a requirement; I didn’t think about it too hard—it was something new and different. I grew up in small towns, where those kinds of classes weren’t really offered; in high school, we moved to Cañon City, Colorado, a town of 12,000 people. That was the first time I had the opportunity to take a class in another language.
The first two weeks in Spanish, I was completely lost, just really overwhelmed, and then it started to click. What made me push through?I couldn’t easily get out of the class. But more than that, the intense process where you feel vulnerable, and make connections with other students and the teacher. This interpersonal dimension was a big reason I kept taking Spanish. And once you start to get it, it’s sort of addictive, it builds its own momentum. A process of self-discovery gets bound up in language learning. I never thought that it would be something I would do as a career; it was an interest, an add-on. Even in college, I didn’t take Spanish right away, but when I did, I really liked it. I was going to be a Spanish minor. When I was almost finished with the minor, another student and I were in the library speaking in Spanish, and I was showing her photos from my study abroad program in Mexico. A student across from us got really upset, cursed as he called us foreigners, threw a stapler, and told me to leave the country. I was in total shock. It was another moment of deep introspection; confronted with my own privilege in a lot of ways, it made me want to continue, take the next step and become a Spanish major.
What other languages to do you speak or read, even a little?
After Spanish, the two languages I know best are Quechua and Portuguese because I studied them for many years. I conducted research on/in Quechua during my 18 months of fieldwork in Peru. I’m most familiar with the Cuzco-Qollaw dialect of Southern Quechua, which is spoken in Southern Peru, Bolivia, and parts of Northern Argentina. My Portuguese is rusty, but I can read it really well; I would have considered myself close to fluent at one point. I have also studied French (family ancestry) and taken Catalan. I’ve done a bit of research into Aymara, and other major indigenous languages of the Americas (Nahuatl, Maya), in order to understand some of the complexities of language contact situations.
What courses have you most enjoyed teaching—or most look forward to teaching—at the UO?
I have really enjoyed teaching Spanish in the US (SPAN 428). It’s interesting to me because, even though my research is not on Spanish in the US per se, I was already very familiar with that literature; many aspects of the situation of Spanish in US make me reflect on the situation of indigenous languages in Latin America. What’s been exciting about that class is that it has given me and the students a space to explore issues, myths, discourses, and ideologies surrounding the past, present, and future of Spanish.
Next quarter, I’m really looking forward to Language Contact in Latin America and Spain (SPAN 420/520). The course will focus a lot on social and cultural dimensions of language contact, looking at questions of linguistic diversity in the Spanish-speaking world. Looking at Rapa Nui on Easter Island, for example, will allow students to make a lot of connections to the situation in the US with Spanglish. We’ll look at more historic cases as well, such as varieties of Italian in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20thcentury.
Did anything surprise you about UO or Eugene?
The biggest surprise was just that I was coming here to join you! At times it’s been overwhelming, a big transition between grad school and starting a job on the tenure track. Students seem very familiar, easy to connect to. I’ve been struck many times at their level of preparation.
If anything has surprised me, it’s the extent to which I feel really at home here, in all respects. I get up in the morning, and I can’t wait to come in and get to work. And on the weekends, I can’t wait to go explore.