All posts, English, Irish & Communication, Researcher profiles

Profile: Dr Cassie Smith-Christmas

“I have loved languages as far back as I can remember.  In fact, my mother often likes to remind me that I used to try and teach our cat how to speak English—not surprisingly, to little avail.  It wasn’t until I had the privilege of taking a class with Peter Mülhäusler at the University of Adelaide, however, that I ‘discovered’ endangered languages.  From then on, things were different; I changed my major from English Lit to Linguistics and then went on to do an MA in English Language and Culture specialising in Language Acquisition at Leiden University.  It was during this time that I found my ‘research family’—aka the Scottish Gaelic-speaking family who has so kindly put up with me researching them for many years, culminating in my PhD from the University of Glasgow in 2012. I then later drew on additional data in writing my 2016 monograph Family Language Policy:  Maintaining an Endangered Language in the Home when I was a research fellow for the Gaelic language research network Soillse during my visiting fellowship at the Institute for the Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

From 2012-2014, I was a research fellow for the University of the Highlands and Islands, two years of which were spent at Lews Castle College on the Isle of Lewis.  Living full-time in a heartland community gave me many insights on the dynamics of being a ‘new speaker’ of an endangered language and how language revitalisation is not just about ‘language,’ but essentially, about people, and most importantly, about social empowerment.  This are themes which I intend to carry forward into my future work with endangered languages.

I am now at the University of Limerick for a two-year Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded by the Irish Research Council to continue my work on Family Language Policy (FLP), this time with a comparative lens, looking at the linguistic practices and ideologies of both Scottish Gaelic-speaking families and Irish-speaking families.  This project is particularly exciting for me because as far as I know, this is the first FLP study which compares FLPs in the context of two autochthonous minority language communities. It is also particularly interesting because linguistically-speaking, the two languages are very similar, but institutional support for each language is vastly different.  My mentor for this project is Tadhg Ó hIfearnáin, who has worked extensively on Family Language Policy in an Irish context.

I am very excited for my project to progress and have been overwhelmed by the kind welcome I have received here at UL. I look forward to being part of such a supportive and innovative research environment.”

Dr Cassie Smith-Christmas was awarded an Irish Research Council – Government of Ireland 2-year Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Limerick. Her research project is entitled The Challenges of Minority Language Maintenance: Family Language Policy in Scotland and Ireland. The P.I. and postdoctoral mentor is Dr Tadhg Ó hIfearnáin. Dr Smith-Christmas has a BA in Linguistics from the College of William and Mary (Virginia, USA), an MA in Language Acquisition from Leiden University (Netherlands) and a PhD in 2012 from the University of Glasgow (Scotland). 

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