Janice Carruthers MRIA: Linguist04 August 2023
Professor Carruthers’ research is centred on the French language, multilingualism in France and language policy.
Janice Carruthers MRIA, is professor of French linguistics at Queen’s University Belfast and dean of research in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
The French language is at the heart of my research. I work on the evolution of the language, on the syntactic structure of spoken French, on sociolinguistic variation and language change, and on language and identity in France. In recent years I have been researching increasingly at the intersection of languages, policy and education, with a particular interest in how we can enhance language learning from primary school through to university and beyond, and how we can best articulate positive messages for policymakers around the value of languages for intercultural understanding, international relations and global trade.
I grew up in North Belfast and was fortunate to have inspirational language teachers at school. My undergraduate degree in Cambridge was a mix of language and literary studies in French and German, all of which gave me a rich cultural base for the ‘linguistic turn’ my trajectory has taken. While undertaking a second-year paper in the history of the French language, I realised not only that my primary fascination was with the language itself, but also that there was a whole academic field—French linguistics—in which I felt completely ‘at home’. After completing an MPhil in linguistics, I embarked on a PhD at Cambridge with Wendy Ayres-Bennett (with whom I still collaborate), on a rare French past tense and its role—diachronically and synchronically—within the temporal system of the spoken language.
My first book, co-authored with Ayres-Bennett (Problems and perspectives: studies in the Modern French language: Longman, 2001), sought to problematise the analysis of a range of areas in the language (such as the evolution of word order, or the impact of lexical borrowing) through the lens of diverse linguistic theories. Since then, following publication of Oral narration in Modern French: a linguistic analysis of temporal patterns (Legenda, 2005), a major strand of my research has focused on temporality in the oral medium (tense, aspect, connectives, adverbials), including conversational narratives and oral storytelling in both traditional and contemporary settings.
High-quality data is vital to research on linguistic patterning in the oral medium: designing, building and annotating digital corpora has therefore become central to my work. In 2013 I published the French oral narrative corpus (of contemporary storytelling), and in 2018, with Marianne Vergez-Couret (Université de Poitiers), a corpus of oral narratives in Occitan (OcOr), which includes recordings of stories by traditional storytellers from archives at the Centre Occitan des Musiques et Danses Traditionnelles, as well as recordings of contemporary practitioners in live performances. My interest in regional languages and multilingualism came together in the Manual of Romance sociolinguistics (edited with Ayres-Bennett: De Gruyter, 2018), which argues that the dialectal richness of the Romance space has shaped the research field in many of its languages in a way that is theoretically and empirically quite distinct from research on ‘World Englishes’.
Since 2016 I have worked increasingly as the lead or as a member of a team of researchers on projects funded by Horizon 2020 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). I headed up the Queen’s University strand of the MEITS project (www.meits.org), in which linguists worked with literary scholars, education specialists and neuroscientists in an exploration of the benefits and challenges of multilingualism across a range of global contexts, including in France and Ireland. From 2017 to 2021 I was AHRC Priority Area Leadership Fellow for modern languages; in this role I spent 50% of my time on research in the field of language policy and 50% as champion for languages, particularly with policymakers, in the sphere of education but also in business and communities.
These projects have brought home to me the value of partnership in research, whether that involves collaboration with postdoctoral fellows in project design and publications, interdisciplinary work with colleagues in other universities, or cooperation with external groups such as artists (in my case, storytellers in France) and policymakers. Partnerships such as these do not suit all areas of Arts and Humanities research, but my experience is that where they work well there can be huge benefits—not least the opportunity to respond to research questions from new angles and to support the next generation of researchers.
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