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Susan Berk-Seligson

Research Professor and Professor Emerita of Spanish Linguistics
Affiliate Faculty, Center for Latin American Studies, and Research Associate, Latin American Public Opinion Project

I am a linguist, with research and teaching areas of specializations in (1) sociolinguistics, (2) forensic linguistics (3) pragmatics and discourse analysis, and (4) language and gender.

I have published a book on police interrogations and other pre-trial phases of the judicial process as they relate to Spanish-speaking defendants, in addition to a book on interpreting in the courtroom itsef. I am currently working on a book-length manuscript on judicial systems in contact, focusing specifically on the rights of the Quichua of Ecuador to administer justice in their traditional indigenous ways.

At the same time, I am working on a research project that focuses on the discourse surrounding youth gang violence in Central America, looking specifically at El Salvador, Panama and Guatemala. Interviews with police officers, school teachers, clergy, and other community leaders provide the data for the discourse analysis that gives the project its linguistic grounding. Policy recommendations for these three Central American countries as well as for the agencies that are supporting gang violence prevention efforts are a crucial goal of the research. This research constitutes the qualitative component of a much larger quantitative study based at Vanderbilt University.

My publications include the books, Coerced Confessions: The Discourse of Bilingual Police Interrogations, Mouton de Gruyter, 2009, and The Bilingual Courtroom: Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process, 1990, 2002, and 2017, The University of Chicago Press. The Bilingual Courtroom was awarded the prize for “Outstanding Book in the Field of Applied Linguistics” by the British Association of Applied Linguistics and was nominated for the Scribes Book Award by the American Bar Association.

Articles of mine on pragmatic aspects of legal language have appeared in such journals as Pragmatics, Language in Society, Forensic Linguistics: The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law (more recently renamed, The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law), the International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Linguistics, Multilingua, La Raza Law Journal, Interpreting: International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting, and the Revista Iberoamericana de Discurso y Sociedad..

Related to my interest in both language in legal settings and language and gender is my interest in the discourse of domestic violence. Thus, I have co-authored with Shonna L. Trinch, "Narrating in Protective Order Interviews: A Source of Interactional Trouble," Language in Society, 2002, have participated as a member of the National Advisory Board of the National Center for State Courts project, "Serving Limited English Proficient (LEP) Battered Women: A National Survey of the Courts' Capacity to Provide Protection Orders," and have conducted research on the topic of domestic violence among indigenous Ecuadorians.

I currently serve on the editorial/advisory boards of six journals: (1) The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, (2) the Journal of Interpreting: International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting, (3) Translation & Interpreting: The International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research, (4) Revista Brasileira de Linguística Antropológica.(5) International Journal of Law, Language and Discourse, and (6) International Journal of Legal Translation and Court Interpreting.

In addition to publishing in the field of language and the law, I have written about Spanish in Latin America, particularly Costa Rican Spanish (Lingua, The Journal of Pragmatics, The Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, American Journal of Political Science, International Journal of Law, Language & Discourse, and the Latin American Research Review).

My research has been funded by four National Science Foundation grants/fellowships, and I have served on graduate fellowship selection panels for both NSF and the Ford/Rockefeller Foundation.

My research interests both in language and the law as well as in Spanish in the U.S.A. have led me to apply my knowledge as a linguistic expert witness in cases involving capital punishment and the rights of linguistic minorities to speak a language other than English, particularly in the workplace. Thus, I have served as a linguistic expert in several cases involving first-degree murder, as well as in class-action suits initiated either by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal organism that fights discrimination in the workplace, or by private law firms. In essence, these legal cases test the fairness of English-Only policies instituted by private companies. I have also served as an expert in cases involving the right to quality interpreting services in U.S. Immigration and Naturalization hearings. Finally, I have served as Research Affiliate of the National Center for State Courts and Advisory Committee member overseeing the Federal Court Interpreter's Certification Exam, an exam administered by the National Center for State Courts.

I have chaired or co-chaired fifteen Ph.D. dissertations in Spanish linguistics. Nearly all of these students were placed in tenure-stream positions: Amanda Castro-Mitchell (Colorado State, Boulder), Joni Hurley (Clemson University), Sarah Blackwell (University of Georgia, Athens), Ana Suelly Cabral (Universidade de Brasilia, Brazil), Denise Overfield (University of West Georgia, Georgia), Susana de los Heros (University of Rhode Island), Elena Ruzickova (California State University, Los Angeles), Jessie Carduner (Kent State University), Shonna L. Trinch (John Jay College of Criminal Justic, CUNY), Roxana Delbene (Alvernia University, Pennsylvania), María Luz Valdez (Indiana University, Bloomington), Jorge Porcel (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Jorge Arbujas (Louisiana State University), Marilyn Feke (Rowan University, New Jersey), and Marjorie Zambrano (College of Charleston, South Carolina); a number of them are tenured faculty now.

I hold a Ph.D. in Linguistics (University of Arizona), and have taught in the Modern Languages Department of Purdue University (1983-85) and in the Hispanic Languages and Literatures Department of the University of Pittsburgh (1985 to 2004). At the University of Pittsburgh I also held a secondary appointment in the Department of Linguistics and was Director of the Hispanic Linguistics M.A./Ph.D. Program of that department. At Vanderbilt University I have served as Associate Director of the Center for Latin American Studies and Director of Graduate Studies of that Center.