Hello I’m Julie A. Hochgesang.
I work in the Linguistics Department at Gallaudet University. I research, teach and work with others in matters related to language, particularly that of signed languages.
I love the study of language. I’m fascinated with how words are produced, how they’re understood, how they’re put together with other words. How how how how all around. Why did I get so into the hows of language?
When I was 8, my baby brother had just been born. At that time I was attending school where I was the only deaf child. This school was really worried about how I’d do academically so they gave me a tutor to help out. I wasn’t crazy about having a tutor. She used to take me out of the real cool classes like Science and History and sit me down in a small enclosed room with her to go over different exercises intended to encourage my academic learning. About this time that my brother was born, my tutor asked me to write a short paragraph about something good that had happened to me recently. The first thing that came to mind was my brother. I was thrilled by his presence in our family. He had really shaken my world, and in a good way. So of course I’d write about him.
The thing is I didn’t want to use the word ‘baby’ – that word called up too many negative connotations – a whiny crying baby, a crybaby, something that did not represent my brother (not at that point yet for me) so I wanted a different word that matched my perception of him – a bright-eyed fresh creature that can only do amazing things. The word that 8-year old me came up for this connotation was ‘babe’. Today-me could tell 8-year-old-me a little something about ‘babe’ but nevertheless at that time, ‘babe’ was the perfect lexical choice. I wrote down the word and I just knew that my tutor was going to tap me on the shoulder and tell me I was using the wrong word. I turned to face her, ready with an explanation. For when I went over it in my head, ‘babe’ just made perfect sense and I knew my tutor would understand if I could explain. But the tutor wouldn’t let me get a word in. She took that eraser of hers, leaned over, wiped away that beautiful ‘e’ and put a big fat ugly ‘y’ in its place.
That day I remember thinking why does she get to decide? My choice makes perfect sense! How is it that she can dictate what’s right and why is that right anyway? Isn’t language supposed to communicate what we need it to? How does language work anyway?
In hindsight, I have a lot to thank that tutor for. Her refusal to let me play with language only added fire to my desire to play with it even more and begin my lifelong need to understand its inner workings. That day, even though I didn’t realize it then or for many years after, I became concerned with the issue of representation, which basically is about a form referring to some other form – often in different media. From vibrations in the air to scratches on paper, from hand manipulations to, again, scratches on paper.
In linguistics, we use transcription to freeze some fleeting language act on paper (or rather, more accurately these days, computer screen) for subsequent analysis. This process just fascinates me and I often think about this complex process – from production, selection, representation and use. And of course, we shouldn’t think about transcription for transcription alone, although that would be enough to occupy our days. We should think about how transcription is used for linguistic analyses, to reach some understanding of a structural aspect of language. And that is what I work on most of my days.
This experience and many others along the way lead me to focus my education on language. I started with studying English at CSUN and got a BA in 1999. When I finished, I started graduate school for teaching English but realized I wasn’t ready for graduate studies just yet. Instead, I joined the Peace Corps and went off to Kenya in East Africa to teach at a Deaf School there. During my two years there, I didn’t use my own sign language but instead I learned their sign language – Kenyan Sign Language. While I taught, I also worked with the Deaf community in documenting their sign language.
We made a CD dictionary. It was a really wonderful experience that showed me how to work with the community and how to document language. I didn’t want to stop that work after I finished the Peace Corps so I went to Gallaudet to study linguistics. I got my master’s in 2007 and am nearly done with my PhD dissertation. Since I am interested in how primary (signed or spoken) language is represented in written symbols and how that affects linguistic analyses, I focus on the phonological form, specifically the hand configuration and how different representation systems may provide different data and possible consequences for understanding of linguistic patterns.
I am also fascinated with documentary linguistics – which is a coverall term for corpus linguistics, transcription, fieldwork linguistics. I aim to help develop corpora that different disciplines can use.
I am also interested in phonetics and phonology as well as child acquisition (monolingual, monomodal or bilingual, bimodal).
I am thrilled to be at Gallaudet because I have the opportunity to do that work with amazing colleagues and students.
About myself, I live in Northern Virginia with my brilliant graphic designer husband and young son. I enjoy watching and reading sci-fi/fantasy. I also KISS-FIST folding origami cranes – if you stop by my office, you can see them all over.