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In the Spotlight: Meet Spanish Sociolinguist Rebecca Ronquest

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Dr. Rebecca Ronquest, New FLL Tenure-Track Faculty photo

Dr. Rebecca Ronquest, Assistant Professor in Spanish Sociolinguistics and Acoustic Phonetics.

Rebecca Ellen Ronquest joined the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures during the fall 2013 semester as an assistant professor in Spanish sociolinguistics and acoustic phonetics.

A native of the Midwest, Ronquest started working in the department last year as a postdoctoral teaching scholar before making the transition to her new position as assistant professor. Her specialty is acoustic phonetics, particularly that of Hispanic bilingual speakers residing in the Carolinas.

The following is an abridged version of an email interview that FLL lecturer Samuel Sotillo recently conducted with this new member of the faculty.

Samuel Sotillo: Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

Rebecca Ronquest: Although I was born in the Midwest and moved around a lot when I was very young, I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in Northern Virginia. After high school I attended the College of William & Mary, where I completed a B.A. in Spanish. I became really interested in linguistics during my last two years of college. I went on to earn my M.A. and Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics at Indiana University.

SS: Describe the intellectual trajectory that brought you to academia and to Spanish sociolinguistics and acoustic phonetics.

RR: I’ve been interested in words and languages for about as long as I can remember. In middle school I took an “Overview of Foreign Language” class, and started taking Spanish the following year, which I continued all the way through high school. In college I signed up for a Spanish phonetics class without really knowing what phonetics was, and loved it.

SS: What does a Spanish sociolinguist do? What is acoustic phonetics?

RR: Very generally speaking, sociolinguists investigate the relationship between language use and social variables such as age, gender, and socioeconomic class — to name a few. A sociolinguistic study of Spanish, for example, might investigate if male and female speakers differ in how they pronounce or delete “s” in certain linguistic contexts. Sociolinguists also investigate topics such as bilingualism, language and society, new dialect formation, and the connection between language and identity. Particularly, I’m interested in bilingual pronunciation and how Spanish-English bilinguals might use language as a means to construct a dual or hybrid identity. Acoustic phonetics is the study of the acoustic properties of speech.

SS: What are you working on right now?

RR: I’m working with some data I collected for my dissertation that deals with the pronunciation of the Spanish vowels by heritage speakers of Spanish. I have begun to extend this work to include vowel production by Spanish-English bilinguals in Raleigh and the surrounding areas, and am in the process of making comparisons between bilingual speakers from the Midwest and those here in the Southeast.

SS: How are your research and your teaching connected?

RR: Since I primarily teach courses in my specialty areas, there is a pretty strong connection between my research and my teaching. I’m able to share my knowledge of phonetics and acoustics with my  students. And I make a point to discuss some of my vowel research findings with them.

Teaching has also allowed me to meet members of the local Spanish-speaking community. In fact, my interest in heritage speakers grew out of my experiences working with them in the classroom.

SS: What do you enjoy and find most challenging about teaching?

RR: I think what I enjoy most about teaching is witnessing someone’s “Aha!” moment, when all of a sudden, all the complex, abstract concepts suddenly make sense and a student notices something we’ve discussed in class in a real-world context. The challenge — but also something I truly enjoy — is coming up with creative and innovative ways to teach the information and present it to the students in a context that is relevant to their lives.

SS: What are you reading?

RR: Although I’m always browsing the latest journals and keeping up with research in the field, I try to make time for some fun reading. I just finished Veronica Roth’s “Insurgent”, which is about a dystopian society in a future Chicago.  It is somewhat similar to “The Hunger Games” series, so if you liked those books, I highly recommend it.

SS: What else should we know about you?

RR:  I love to run, and try to make time for it every day.  I enjoy competing in road races, and hope to complete my first marathon and triathlon this year.

SS: What do you look forward to most about your new position?

RR: I’m really looking forward to becoming part of a team and contributing to the teaching and research communities at NC State.

SS: Do you have any advice for our students and alumni who are on the job market?

RR: My best advice? Research each position carefully. Before even applying, investigate the school and the position; know who works there, what they do, and how you can contribute. The job market is also a waiting game, so you have to be patient. Once an application is submitted, move on to other things and don’t dwell. Finally, probably the biggest lesson I learned over the past few years is that so much of the search process deals with finding the right “fit.” Even if a particular job sounds great on paper, you might go on an interview and realize that it just isn’t the right place for you. Pay attention to your interactions with the people you meet, think about what it would be like to be one of their colleagues, and try to get a sense of the workplace dynamics.

By Samuel Sotillo, Webmaster/Lecturer, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

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