New Faces: Dr. John Lyon joins Linguistics

New Faces in Linguistics: Dr. John Lyon Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities

The College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State is the largest college on campus, encompassing nine departments, and the Armenian Studies Program.

Each year, new faculty are brought on to elevate the academic offerings here at Fresno State. These new faculty members bring innovative research, diverse fields of study and technical expertise to our college, inspiring new ways of thinking throughout our many disciplines.

Over the next few weeks, we will introduce you to these new faces, by department.

Department of Linguistics

Dr. John LyonDr. John Lyon joins the Department of Linguistics as an assistant professor, coming to Fresno State from the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Within the field of Linguistics, Lyon specializes in semantics, information structure and syntax of Interior Salish languages, spoken in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada.

Lyon’s MA thesis work consisted of dictionary work with the Coeur d’Alene tribe in Idaho, carried out at the University of Montana under the direction of Dr. Anthony Mattina. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2014 with a dissertation, supervised by Dr. Henry Davis, investigating the syntax and semantics of non-verbal, “copular” sentences in Nsyilxcn (a.k.a. Okanagan Salish).

From 2014-2016, Lyon was employed as a postdoctoral fellow through a SSHRC Partnership Grant titled First Nations Languages in the Twenty-First Century: Looking Back, Looking Forward, at Simon Fraser University. He continues to be involved in documentation and resource development initiatives with the Upper St’át’imc Language, Culture and Education Society in Lillooet, BC. His work includes contributions to a community-based English-St’át’imcets dictionary, three comprehensive analyzed text collections, and two 300-level St’át’imcets courses. He has also recently published a volume of Okanagan language narratives with the University of Nebraska Press, entitled “Okanagan Grouse Woman: Upper Nicola Okanagan Narratives” as part of the Recovering Languages & Literacies of the Americas series, and continues his collaborative, community-based documentation work in the Okanagan. In 2017-2018, he held a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Victoria.

Currently, Lyon is conducting fieldwork on St’át’imcets (a.k.a. Lillooet) and Okanagan, focusing on prosody and information structure and their variation within the Salish language family. This work involves elicitation with fluent elders, as well as the analysis of new and existing recordings of narratives and conversations.

Lyon’s long-term research interests include documentation of personal narrative, building indigenous language literatures, the semantics and syntax of North American indigenous languages, innovating ways to repurpose linguistic research into language curricula and understanding and implementing successful socio-economic language revitalization strategies.

Question: What are you most looking forward to here at Fresno State?

Answer: I look forward to being able to support so many first-generation undergraduates on their well-deserved paths to degrees, to inspire interest in languages and the science of languages and to raise the profile of endangered North American indigenous languages.

Q: What do you enjoy most about the field of linguistics?

A: Working with fluent, elder speakers of indigenous languages who bear so much incredible and irreplaceable knowledge about the world.

Q: What will your distinctive background do to elevate the Linguistics Department offerings here at Fresno State?

A: My hope is that the Linguistics Department will benefit from my work in endangered language documentation, that students will take an interest in natural language semantics (how meaning is encoded in language) and that student enrollment will increase as a result of interest in these two areas.

Q: What’s a fun fact that people might not know about you?

A: I’m a fiddle player and love learning traditional tunes in various styles.

Q: What is a favorite piece of advice you would like to give students in your specialty area?

A: Persevere and follow your dreams.

Q: What is a book you think everyone should read?

A: “Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition” by Glen Coulthard.  It’s an academic book about the politics of indigenous reconciliation in Canada, where I come from, but there is much that can be learned about these issues on this side of the border, as well. Mostly, the cultural (and linguistic) heritage of indigenous people in the U.S. have been (and continue to be) undervalued and under-appreciated. As an institution which prides itself on diversity, the Fresno State community would do well to take a long, hard look at its relationship with indigenous communities at the local level, but also from the perspective of the state of California.

Q: When are your office hours?


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