After bouncing around between medical and scientific majors at Fresno City College, Mary Johnson embraced her love for reading and switched her major to English. Then she discovered linguistics when she took an online class to fulfill a general education requirement and was hooked.
At Fresno State, Johnson decided to pursue a double major in Linguistics and English, with a minor in German. She is currently studying abroad in Germany.
“[S]he’s the top undergraduate we have in Linguistics: hardworking, clever, well rounded, and consistent,” said Dr. Chris Golston, professor. “She approaches everything with real drive, and nothing stands up to her fierce intellect.”
Johnson has maintained a high GPA while taking heavy course loads, working as a student assistant, and volunteering at the Fresno County Library.
In addition, Johnson has been working with Holly Wyatt, one of the last Chukchansi language speakers, on a Chukchansi-English guide on how acorns are processed in traditional Yokuts culture.
“This text will eventually be used as an aid for teaching the children of the Chukchansi tribe the language as well as this traditional cooking method,” said Johnson.
“This kind of work is more often undertaken by graduate students or post-doctoral researchers, not undergraduates, which underscores Mary’s unusual ability and interest in the area of Native American linguistics,” said Dr. John Lyon, assistant professor.
Golston explains she is also working on another aspect of the Chukchansi language. “Mary is doing a corpus-based study on subordination in the language, based on twenty-seven traditional Chukchansi myths we have translated here from English back into Chukchansi (they were recorded by anthropologists only in English).”
As president of the Linguistics Club, an honor usually reserved for graduate students, Johnson was instrumental in organizing the Western Conference on Linguistics at Fresno State in Fall 2019.
Johnson plans to continue at Fresno State and earn her master’s degree in linguistics. She looks forward to continuing her work with the Chukchansi tribe. Eventually, Johnson intends to become a professor of Linguistics.