LINGUIST List 30.1642

Mon Apr 15 2019

Rising Stars: Meet Sarah Lapacz!

Editor for this issue: Everett Green <>

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Date: 15-Apr-2019
From: LINGUIST List <>
Subject: Rising Stars: Meet Sarah Lapacz!
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Dear Readers,

This year we will be continuing our Rising Stars Series where we feature up and coming linguists ranging from impactful undergraduates to prolific PhD candidates. These rising stars have been nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.

For today’s post we proudly present the thoughtful work of Sarah Lapacz. She is currently an MA student at the University of Bonn in Germany. Her research interests range from forensic linguistics to teaching English as a foreign language and she is very active in the community. Sarah has already co-authored a published article, written blogs on various linguistic topics and presented papers and posters at several conferences and workshops. As a member of the LETS (Linguistics of English and Translation Studies) team, she is also currently assisting with research on sociocultural impact on recent language change in the UK, US and Germany. As is always the case with our Rising Stars, Sarah’s list of accomplishments is much longer than we have room for in this post so let’s move on and hear what she has to say!


I have always been fascinated by languages other than my mother tongue, German. Whenever we went on vacation, I was puzzled by the local languages and the people who spoke them. All these strange sounds and melodies intrigued me. Even though no one in my family spoke the local language, my mother was able to converse with people in English to order food, buy medicine, or ask for directions. Only later, during my BA studies, did I realize that I was indeed not fascinated by languages, but rather by language itself and how it works, or sometimes simply just does not work.

I was fortunate enough to have been accepted into the MA Applied Linguistics program at the University of Bonn where I found myself in the position to answer my questions while receiving the best support and guidance. It did not take long for me to identify my research interest in taboo language and forensic linguistics. While one field is hopefully finally able to overcome its own taboo status, the other one is a rather young field, that is increasingly gaining importance though.

Taboo language makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. Yet it can be found in every culture and language and is part of daily life, as it is, e.g., a means of venting our emotions. Taboo terms and their effect intrigue me. Most of my research projects so far have focused on these terms and their use and perception, which took me from looking into responses to insults from a cross-cultural viewpoint, to the use, perception, and code-switching of taboo terms by English as Lingua Franca speakers, or the translation of taboo terms by language learners. Previous research by Jean-Marc Dewaele, Jonathan Culpeper, and Benjamin Bergen has greatly inspired me along the way. I was able to present my research at various conferences, nationally and internationally, something for which I am most grateful. All this made me realize that there are so many more questions to be answered.

As I mentioned, I am also interested in the area of forensic linguistics. At the start of my MA studies, I was introduced to the Germanic Society for Forensic Linguistics (GSFL) which led me to become more actively interested in the field. The GSFL has also enabled me to participate in the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course in Forensic Speech and Audio Analysis at the University of York on a scholarship. This experience has sparked an additional interest in forensic phonetics in me. I will investigate taboo language in a legal context for my PhD project where I will have a closer look at hate speech at the intersection of forensic linguistics and forensic phonetics.

My current MA thesis under the supervision of Gaby Axer and Prof. Svenja Kranich, however, focuses on another matter close to my heart. As we linguists are aware, language shapes our world. With this in mind, it becomes clear that this could pose a problem when an extralinguistic context depends on the language we use to describe an action or situation. This is the case in legal settings. For my MA thesis, I try to gain some more insight into the linguistic side of the phenomenon of victim blaming in rape cases and the effect it might have, especially when it appears in witness statements.

I think that with current movements such as #metoo and the overall political climate, research in the areas outlined above will increasingly gain relevance and importance. The goal with all my research projects is to raise more awareness towards the complexities of taboo language (especially its perception), the influence of specific linguistic behavior which discriminates others and puts them at a disadvantage, and the need for a more reliable and effective framework when it comes to hate crimes. I hope that I will have plenty of opportunity to get immersed in the necessary research and I am excited about the amazing insights the future may bring.

After another cup of tea.


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Page Updated: 15-Apr-2019