"Because language is such an integral part of our lives, a linguistic perspective can benefit students in any field.”
Zaring believes that she’s always wanted to be a linguist—in both senses of the word. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to learn another language (which is the older, polyglot meaning of linguist). And when I learn one, I’ve always dissected it, trying to figure out how it works (which is the newer, scientific meaning of linguist),” she says. “I started out as a French major, and enjoyed it greatly, but something was always missing for me in my studies. When I stumbled on linguistics in graduate school, I finally discovered what that missing link was.”
“My career path has been somewhat non-standard, but it has provided valuable experience for starting up a linguistics program at Luther,” she says. “I began my career in the French department at Indiana University. I taught French linguistics but discovered during that time that I really preferred the atmosphere of small liberal arts college to that of a research university.”
Zaring’s search for a tenure-track job of this sort in linguistics (of which there are very few) led her to positions at various colleges including Macalester College, Reed College, Carleton College, and Ohio Wesleyan University. “I was thrilled to be able to come to Luther and settle down,” she says.
Zaring admits that she’s always loved learning, especially about language. “As a French major at small liberal arts college, I had a professor who truly mentored me—helped me discover who I could become,” she says. “After I graduated, I decided that I wanted to pass on the gift that he gave me. Plus, I couldn’t imagine not continuing to learn about language!”
“The neatest thing about teaching at Luther is that I get to work closely with students who’ve never heard of linguistics before and become just as excited about it as I am,” she says. She finds that her students’ discoveries always lead her to new ones too. “Learning doesn’t get any cooler than that! And because language is such an integral part of our lives, a linguistic perspective can benefit students in any field.”
Zaring is currently working on two very different projects. “The most recent one is in collaboration with Yolanda Pushetonequa of the Meskwaki nation. We want to write a Meskwaki reference grammar that the general public and people learning Meskwaki can understand,” she says. “The other deals with the syntax of Old French, exploring how it changed over time and how this knowledge can help us create a theory of syntactic change which will shed light on how the human mind works.”
“I’m a self-confessed Tolkien geek (since I was 13) and have been trying to learn how to play the Celtic harp for the past 13 years. I’m still not ready for prime time …”