Alumni News: Dean’s medalist becomes a linguistics professor across the globe  

Dr. Jason Brown (third from right) and his team, a group of Naasioi elders and community members on an ethnobiological expedition in Bougainville, collect photographs and record the Naasioi names of plants and animals.

Dr. Jason Brown~ By Nancy Barragan, student writer for the College of Arts and Humanities

Dr. Jason Brown, a Fresno State alum, was awarded the graduate dean’s medal in 2002 while earning his master’s degree in linguistics.   

Now he is a professor at the University of Auckland and the head of the Linguistics Society of New Zealand.  

Dr. Chris Golston, a professor with the Linguistics Department, said, “Jason has a deep interest in knowing how language works and that depth of caring is what sets him apart from most people. He’s in it all the way for keeps. … He tutored half the phonology class he was in because he understood it so much better than they did. He’s very generous with his time and always there to help. ”

In Brown’s second year in the master’s program at Fresno State, he delivered several talks at linguistics conferences — at Harvard, the University of Washington, U.C. Santa Barbara and to the Chicago Linguistics Society.

“I’ve never heard of a second year MA student doing this much,” Golston said, “and it speaks volumes about his diligence, drive and native intelligence. … One of the great things about Jason is, he’s a home boy done good. He’s locally raised, like eggs or milk, but an internationally recognized scholar of real quality. He’s what Fresno State is about, in my book.”

We were able to chat with Dr. Brown about his time at Fresno State and how his career path has developed since graduating.  

Q: What year did you graduate from Fresno State?

A: I graduated in 2000 with my bachelor’s degree in anthropology and philosophy [double major], and in 2002 with my master’s in linguistics.  

Q: What kind of linguistics did you study while attending Fresno State?

A: I studied general linguistics at Fresno State, and I received my training in linguistic field work there too.

Q: What is a favorite memory, professor or experience from your time at Fresno State?

A: My favorite memories are having extended discussions about language with the professors there, particularly Chris Golston, Brian Agbayani and Charles Ettner (in anthropology). The faculty members really take the time to help develop students into budding academics, and this is something that I’ve always been grateful for.

Q: How did receiving the graduate dean’s medal for the College of Arts and Humanities in 2002 impact you?  

A: I was blown away. I took the award of the medal as recognition of the quality teaching that the Linguistics Department was (and still is!) doing. It was also something that motivated me to work as hard as I could throughout the rest of my studies.

Q: What have you been up to since you’ve graduated?

A: Mostly trouble.

Q: How did your education at Fresno State prepare you for where you are now?

A: My education was appropriately broad, and gave me the analytical skills necessary to succeed in academics. My studies at Fresno State gave me the solid background in linguistics that I needed in order to go on to do the Ph.D. Had I not done my training in field methods with Chris Golston, I may never have ended up doing field work in various places in the world, including the South Pacific.

Q: What has your career path been? How did you get from Fresno to New Zealand?

A: I moved to Vancouver, Canada, to do my Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia. After I completed the Ph.D., I received a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at UBC. My next stop was the University of Auckland, where I was offered an academic position, and which is where I still am today.

Q: What is your current position/title?

A: My current position/title is “senior lecturer,” which is roughly equivalent to associate professor in North America.  

Q: How did you become the head of the Linguistics Society of New Zealand? And what meaning does that have for you?

A: I actually became the LSNZ president simply because I agreed to host the conference that rotates around New Zealand every two years.

I have to admit that dealing with organizations in relatively small places can sometimes be difficult, but one highlight is that we were able to move the Society’s journal completely online and open-access. Keeping research outputs (which are often taxpayer-funded) accessible and environmentally sustainable is an important thing to do. I was inspired in part by the Linguistics Department at Fresno State and their move in becoming paper-free.

Q: What are you working on right now? Any new projects?

A: I am currently working with a Papuan language from Bougainville, which is at the top of the Solomon Islands archipelago. Despite the constant and historical interest in colonization and waging war on this island, the rest of the world has actually only scratched the surface in exploring the rich cultural and linguistic traditions of the people who live on Bougainville.

I have been working on the language for a few years now, and have been lucky enough to do field work there, as well. For my research team’s next trip in April, we have been invited to visit a few schools to help develop pedagogical materials, so I’m especially excited about this.

Q: What advice would you have for students pursuing linguistics as a major or career?

A: Be prepared to work hard. Linguistics is a rapidly developing field, so it’s necessary to stay on top of current research. I would also encourage computationally oriented undergrads to consider linguistics as a major. Right now the tech industry is just waiting for fresh talent.

I would also encourage students with an interest in travel and other cultures to get involved with linguistics and get their training in doing field work. There is probably nothing more satisfying than doing field work in a community.

Dr. Golston said, “I absolutely consider him a role model for linguistics students. But he should be a role model for all students: work hard, think deeply, respect the work of the giants whose shoulders we stand on. Jason shows what brains and determination bring. It’s great having Jason be so prominent a linguist in far away New Zealand. I’m personally very proud to have him as a representative of Fresno State and of the U.S. He’s the very opposite of an ‘ugly American’ and does us all proud over there.”

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

2 thoughts on “Alumni News: Dean’s medalist becomes a linguistics professor across the globe  

  1. I remember Jason! Awesome student and good guy. Not surprised at all in his success because he was the top of the class.I wish him continued success in all his endeavors.


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