by Helena Witzke
Lisa Minnick, professor of English at WMU, gave an invited plenary lecture at the International Conference on Dialect and Literature at the University of Sheffield, UK, titled “Founding Fatherhood: Literary Dialect, American English, and National Identity.”
Her lecture, titled “Founding Fatherhood: Literary Dialect, American English, and National Identity,” was based on a chapter in the book she currently is working on, “Writing a National Linguistic Identity: Language Consciousness and Masculinity in American Literature.” The book explores the development of American English and analyzes nineteenth-century literary representations of American vernaculars in the context of cultural discourses about gender and about national identity.
“Language variation and change are natural and inevitable, and not only okay but even kind of fantastically cool. English has been around for about 1500 years, and it has been highly variable from the beginning.” Minnick’s book focuses on these changes in American English and different perceptions of the American dialect—and how sometimes these ideas “get mixed up with a lot of other beliefs and attitudes that aren’t really about language at all.”
A chapter of her book, “Dialect Literature and English in the USA: Standardization and National Linguistic Identity” appeared last November in “Varieties of English in Writing: The Written Word as Linguistic Evidence,” ed. Raymond Hickey (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010). The chapter focuses on the use of dialects in nineteenth-century American literature and how they influenced the acceptance of a strong, accepted American vernacular.
Since her arrival on Western’s campus in 2004, Minnick has provided a challenging and intensive set of classes for her students. From Language in the African American Community to Language, Gender and Culture and Development of Modern English, her courses help students better understand how American English is changing, its diverse forms, and its history.
The courses Minnick teaches mirror her intense interest in linguistics. They focus “primarily on variation in American English and on the history of the English language,” she says. “Like all living languages, American English is in a constant state of flux, although language change may be happening more quickly today than in the past.”
Minnick earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in English linguistics and American literature from the University of Georgia. During her time at UGA, she was named both a University-Wide Graduate Research Fellow and a Robert E. Park Fellow; upon graduation, she was named a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow.
Minnick has received many awards for her academic research and merit as an instructor, including the award for the Choice Outstanding Academic Title and the Presidential Honorary Membership to the American Dialect Society. She is the recipient of the 2010 College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Achievement Award for Professional Service and has been nominated twice for the WMU Distinguished Teaching Award and once for the Emerging Scholar Award. Faculty advisor for the English honor society Sigma Tau Delta, Minnick is involved in numerous committees and recently completed a term on the editorial advisory board for American Speech, the journal of the American Dialect Society.
Her blog, Functional Shift, provides the public with further explorations of the English language, and serves as a discussion of the importance of these studies.
Dr. Minnick’s profile