Dr. Sarah Hercula: Learning with linguistics

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On July 8, 2024

Dr. Sarah Hercula teaching in a classroom. Photo by Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T.

Dr. Sarah Hercula, a linguistics researcher at Missouri S&T, blends several fields in her work. One of her current projects, which focuses on users’ perceptions of virtual assistants’ accented voice settings, combines elements of English and psychology. But she says that is the whole point of the field, as linguistics is a social science with humanistic elements.

“To speak or communicate is to be human, but new technologies are making researchers reconsider many traditional definitions and assumptions,” says Hercula, an associate professor of English and technical communication.

Hercula’s research projects relate to language variation and linguistic inequality. She says she uses her research and teaching to explore how language intersects with other social identity factors that create systems of oppression and inequality, as well as how to promote inclusion and appreciation for linguistic variation and cultural diversity.

“Along with my work on virtual assistants, language ideologies are an interest of mine that many people would recognize,” says Hercula. “Look at television shows like ‘The Good Place’ and ‘Ted Lasso.’ Those shows highlight English language variation, language attitudes and syntax.”

Teaching with distinction

Hercula says that she always loved reading and writing — especially “grammar day” in grade school — but she didn’t plan to earn any advanced degrees or specialize in linguistics. She didn’t even have a chance to fit a linguistics class into her schedule as an undergraduate education major at Western Michigan University.

“I thought I wanted to be a high school teacher, but I quickly found out that I would not enjoy it in the long run,” says Hercula. “I decided to find a way to stay in teaching but at a different level. Then, in my first semester of my master’s degree, I got exposed to linguistics though a language and African American culture course and was hooked.”

 Despite only teaching high school for one year, she says it was a valuable lesson that allowed her to quickly learn a lot about teaching students.

“I see teaching as equal to research in my job,” says Hercula. “You cannot have one without the other. Otherwise, you are missing out on part of the experience.”

A good place to start

The key to good research is patience and curiosity, says Hercula. She has guided S&T students through both FYRE and OURE research projects and says these are great opportunities for students to jump into research.

“Research is so important for undergraduate students,” says Hercula. “If you want to get involved, come talk to me. I really enjoy those initial discussions with curious students and helping get students started.

“I love S&T students — they are driven in a unique way and so many are involved in research projects despite their busy schedules.”

Engineers need English too

Hercula says that the best advice she can give to non-humanities students who need to take an English class at S&T is to remember that they get out what they put into a class.

“If you go into a writing class dreading it, it will be bad,” says Hercula. “Go into it with an open mind and you will have a better experience. Employers value skills such as cross-cultural communication abilities and effective communications to the world, and you only learn those in the humanities.”

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One thought on “Dr. Sarah Hercula: Learning with linguistics”

  • David G. Sizemore says:

    Very interesting take on how we progress as we learn. As brain function is very much in the news now the subject of this article illustrates that very notion.