Ten Minutes With… Laurel MacKenzie

Posted on December 12, 2014 by

Next to subject herself to our panic-inducing interrogation is Laurel MacKenzie, lecturer in English Linguistics specialising in sociolinguistics and language variation. Laurel grew up in Texas but soon escaped to California where she studied Linguistics and French and later did her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. A former LEL PhD student, Danielle Turton, told her about job openings in Manchester and Laurel is now, presumably, far too fond of the rainy grey days in England to be going anywhere in a hurry.

Manchet: Why is linguistics important?
Laurel MacKenzie: There are many reasons, but one that stands out to me is that it takes language, which is something we use every day and that everyone thinks they know a lot about, and provides a whole new way of looking at it: as an object of scientific enquiry. That kind of new perspective on an everyday phenomenon really teaches people how to think and how to question what they think they know.

M: What is the strangest talent you have?
LMK: When I was at university I learned to play the carillon, which is a big keyboard/pedal instrument (kind of like an organ) which rings bells in a tower. There are a bunch of them all over the US in churches and on university campuses, and I took lessons just like for any other instrument. I haven’t played in a long time, though; it turns out that people who spend a lot of their time shut away in bell towers are kind of a weird lot, and the interpersonal dynamics of the carillon community kind of turned me off, as did having to commute to rickety, draughty, dusty old churches to practise once I moved to Philadelphia.
[M: You can watch a video of someone (sadly, not Laurel) playing the carillon here. It’s brilliant.]

M: Who or what would be in your Room 101?
LMK: Oh my god, a whole bunch of fresh coriander, and I have to eat my way out.

M: If you weren’t a linguist, what would you be doing?
LMK: I have a knack for minutiae, and in my younger days I had a strong prescriptivist streak, so I could have seen myself going into editing or publishing. I’ve also loved computer programming from an early age, but I never considered it as a possible career path (which I think must be due in part to a lack of female role models in that field). The great thing about being a linguist, though, is that I get to combine both of these things, and add in teaching, which was always also on the list of possibilities.

M: If you had to be on reality TV, what show would it be and why would/n’t you be a good contestant?
LMK: I was just reminiscing the other day with my brother about all the time we spent in the early 2000s watching Trading Spaces, which was the US version of Changing Rooms. You swap houses with your neighbour and redo one of their rooms. The US show had a famously kooky designer who covered the walls of someone’s entire living room in hay. I think I would be great at covering a room in hay.

M: Describe the LEL Department using 3 words (of any language)
LMK: I’ll use some nice British lexical items that I’ve picked up since moving here. Keep in mind, though, that as a clueless American I may not have acquired them properly. Here goes: squidgy, moreish, mint. How’d I do?