An Interview with Andrea Sterzuk

The Struggle for Legitimacy

This month we are publishing The Struggle for Legitimacy by Andrea Sterzuk. We asked her a few questions about what motivates her research. 

How did you first become interested in studying indigenized Englishes?
It was one of those moments where my intellectual life helped me to understand my lived experiences.  In my first semester of graduate studies, I was taking a course in second language research methods. My professor assigned us the task of writing a research proposal. If I remember correctly, she advised us to choose a research problem that we felt curious or passionate about. In my search, I came across Mary Heit and Heather Blair’s 1993 article Language Needs and Characteristics of Saskatchewan Indian and Metis Students: Implications for Educators. At the same time in my educational sociolinguistics course, I was introduced to William Labov’s seminal work on African American English: Language in the Inner City. Here were two pieces of academic writing that suggested that English language variation is normal and that “nonstandard” English language varieties are legitimate and rule-governed. These views of English language variation didn’t match up with the jokes about “Indian” and “Native” accents I’d grown up with in the Canadian prairies (see for an example). I wanted to know more about how discriminatory and racist views of indigenized Englishes, when held by teachers, might affect Indigenous children in schools. I wrote my research proposal on this topic and it became the focus of my masters and doctoral research and, subsequently, of this book.

What makes your book unique compared to others published in this field?
I think the connections that I make between biased educator views and larger macro processes might set my work apart. There are many classroom-based studies of language variation but this research doesn’t always connect pedagogical practices to colonialism or nationalism, for example.

Which researchers in your field do you particularly admire?
I’m a bit of an academic groupie. When I “discover” someone’s work that I admire, I read everything by them and track them down at conferences so I can hear them speak.  There are many that fall into the category of academic rock star for me but, for the sake of this interview, I’ll name just a few, starting with Suresh Canagarajah.  When I read his work, I often think to myself “oh, I wish I would have said that.” I’ve also had the feeling of being star struck by the writings of Vanessa Andreotti, Zeus Leonardo, Sherene Razack and Sunera Thobani.

Andrea Sterzuk

What bookseither for work or for pleasure – are you reading at the moment?
In terms of books I’ve read for work, I just finished Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts by Margaret Kovach. I highly recommend it. In terms of reading for pleasure, I usually read what my mom and sister pass on to me or what’s recommended to me by some of my reader friends. Some recent pleasure reads include: Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer; Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones; and Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson.

What is your next research project?
I’m just finishing up what I’m calling a critical case study of globalization and higher education. I’ve spent the past two years interviewing faculty and international students at a Canadian university in an effort to understand pedagogical and institutional responses to the growing presence of multiple Englishes in this particular university.  Next up is a mixed-methods study that investigates what pre-service teachers believe about English language variation and communication as well as if and how their views on language and communication change as they transition to full time teaching.

What do you think you might have done if you hadn’t pursued a career in academia?
Before I fell into this career in academia, I was a French teacher so second language teaching would be a definite possibility. At different times in my life, I’ve also daydreamed about being a librarian or a writer.

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