Carrie Gillon: Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination!
Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa.
Carrie Gillon: I’m Carrie Gillon.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, Carrie, I was so weirded out when I was about to say my name because we just recorded a future episode about names.
Carrie Gillon: And you’re like, “What is my own name? Ahh!”
Megan Figueroa: It’s true because sometimes I say /mɛgən/ and sometimes I say /mɛɪgən/ because I’m the weirdest Megan.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, I’ve never noticed that. But for me, I basically can’t tell the difference before a G because I think I just collapse it to one of them. So, it’s not distinctive for me.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. It is for me because it’s my name and I’ve heard it so many which ways, but when I say it, I feel like I’m collapsing them on purpose to give people the out of you can say it either way because I hear it either way all the time. Just letting people know, it’s okay if you say /mɛgən/ or /mɛɪgən/.
Carrie Gillon: That is good to say that.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Whereas, I’m like, “No. Has to be /kɛɹi/.”
Megan Figueroa: Well, my mother says /mɛgən/. If for some reason I really wanna articulate my name carefully, I think I definitely say /mɛɪgən/. I don’t actually know how my dad says it because he always says, “Mi hija.” I’m like, “I’m gonna notice next time.” Either way, ya’ll, is fine.
But speaking of language – just kidding. [Laughter] I’m so bad at these transitions. We’re always talking about language. It was a big weekend last week for Parasite at the Oscars.
Carrie Gillon: I was watching the Oscars and I actually voted for it to win all the categories that it won because I just love the movie so much. I was shocked that it won for all of the things that I said it would win for.
Megan Figueroa: You’re shocked not because it didn’t deserve it but because you just didn’t expect the academy to do it.
Carrie Gillon: Because I love it, so clearly, I think it deserves it. I just was shocked, especially after it won Best Non-English – whatever they call it now. I was like, “Ugh, it’s for sure not gonna win Best Picture,” but I chose for both for some reason and it did.
Megan Figueroa: Well, chills because it kind of – okay. This is the way the Oscars has set itself up that I have, and I think a lot of people had, the expectation that there’s no way the picture that won in Best Non-English would also win the Best Picture because it’s literally never happened.
Carrie Gillon: Right. I couldn’t remember if a movie like that had ever been nominated for both categories before. We were trying to remember – couldn’t remember.
Megan Figueroa: But not won. Certainly not won.
Carrie Gillon: Certainly not won, but possibly never even been nominated. It was definitely unprecedented in either direction. I was so happy because last year’s winner was a bit problematic.
Megan Figueroa: Was that Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood? I don’t even remember – no, no. Sorry. La La Land? What was last year?
Carrie Gillon: La La Land didn’t win. It was Moonlight, remember?
Megan Figueroa: Oh, that was the best! The chaos.
Carrie Gillon: No. Last year was The Green Book.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Anyway.
Megan Figueroa: Was that like a mea culpa thing? The – Parasite – god.
Carrie Gillon: I just think – obviously, I can’t read their minds. I don’t know what happened but, honestly, I think this movie is just that good that it kinda blew the competition out of the water. I thought maybe Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood would win because it’s about Hollywood and LA loves to give itself plaudits – kind of why I thought originally La La Land had won, even though it didn’t. But, no, they went with the actually, genuinely best film.
Megan Figueroa: I haven’t seen it. I’m one of the two people –
Carrie Gillon: Get thee to a theater!
Megan Figueroa: I know. I know. So, no spoilers here. Just the fact that – I mean, again, I am glad that we’re moving a little bit forward that we can break this precedent where no non-English film has won Best Picture because of course non-English films can be best picture. C’mon.
Carrie Gillon: Well, right. Last year, Roma was nominated.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, that’s right.
Carrie Gillon: Roma probably should’ve won. It’s certainly better than Green Book.
Megan Figueroa: Did it win Best Foreign Film? Because it was called “Best Foreign Film” last year I think, wasn’t it?
Carrie Gillon: I think you’re right, and I don’t remember.
Megan Figueroa: Well, anyway.
Carrie Gillon: I don’t remember if it was nominated for both.
Megan Figueroa: I think he won for Best Director though – the Roma director – because it was like Mexico, Mexico, Mexico, that same director.
Carrie Gillon: I think that’s correct. Anyway, speaking of Parasite, John Miller – @MillerStream on Twitter – tweeted this lovely tweet, “A man named Bong Joon Ho wins #Oscar for Best Original Screenplay over Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood and 1917. Acceptance speech was, ‘Great honor. Thank you.’ The he proceeds to give the rest of his speech in Korean. These people are the destruction of America.”
Megan Figueroa: There’s – okay. [Laughter] It’s so layered, Carrie. Racism is the stinkiest onion of all. I hate that – I think, just given his tweet, he’s making a point of the quote-unquote “broken English,” right? I’m imagining him pulling it out and writing it exactly word for word what he said because what did he say?
Carrie Gillon: He claimed that Bong said, “Great honor. Thank you.” And, honestly, I don’t remember –
Megan Figueroa: If that’s what he actually said?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. He said something along those lines, but I dunno if he’s quoting directly or not.
Megan Figueroa: I don’t have any – Alberto Rios called it “generosity of spirit.” I don’t have any generosity of spirit. I think that he’s probably mocking his English too in that little bit.
Carrie Gillon: Right. I mean, why would you give him any benefit of the doubt? He’s saying these people are the destruction of America.
Megan Figueroa: Okay. He starts out mocking his English and then being upset that how dare any other language be spoken on the Oscar stage and then othering – okay. That’s the ultimate othering. And then you’re just gonna directly other by saying, “these people.”
Carrie Gillon: I mean, it’s worse than othering. This is straight up xenophobia.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, I’m surprised he didn’t pull out some of the cockroach imagery or – you know.
Carrie Gillon: Right. I mean, the next step is that, for sure. Then, he claims in the next tweet that he’s not talking about Koreans. He says, quote, “These people,” unquote, “are obviously not Koreans, but those in Hollywood awarding a film that stokes flames of class warfare over two films I thought were more deserving simply to show how woke they are. That should be clear from the rest of what I tweeted about tonight’s production.” No. It’s not clear. And also, I think you’re lying.
Megan Figueroa: So lying. Well, because it probably went viral, he got ratioed I’m sure, hopefully.
Carrie Gillon: I can’t tell, but I’m pretty sure. It did get 32,000 likes.
Megan Figueroa: Well, there’s a lot of racists on Twitter. It’s a cesspool.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, there’re a lot of racists in general, period. And, in this case, super racists because a lot of people are racist. But anyway.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, yeah. Yes. This outwardly “I don’t want your language or you people in my Oscars or in my grocery store or anywhere in my space – in my white public space.”
Carrie Gillon: And also, no. I am sorry. Neither of those movies are more deserving. Okay. We have an email from Kelly. “Hi Megan and Carrie, I just listened to your February 3rd episode and wanted to echo something that Daniel mentioned re: one of your perspective guests he suggested to you” – the Scottish Gaelic consultant for Outlander. I’m not saying his name because I forgot to look up the pronunciation beforehand, and I don’t wanna mess it up.
“If you’re already Outlander fans, you may already know this, but if not, you might enjoy checking out the series.” I still have not seen it. I know so many people love it.
Megan Figueroa: I know. I need to watch it.
Carrie Gillon: I just have so many shows that I love that it’s hard to slot in a new one, but I do really kinda wanna hear some Scottish Gaelic.
Megan Figueroa: I know. Well, how am I supposed to fit it in when I keep watching Schitt’s Creek over and over again? [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: At least I’m not doing that.
Megan Figueroa: Anyway, back to the email.
Carrie Gillon: One of my favorite shows is about to start again so, anyway. “He’s been a guest on a couple episodes of the Outlander podcast where he’s talked about his approach to consulting on the Scottish Gaelic used in the production. The showrunner, Ron Moore” – who’s also the show runner for Battlestar Galactica, just FYI – “also talks about the use of Scottish Gaelic in a couple of episodes of THE OFFICIAL OUTLANDER PODCAST” – all capital letters, so I think that’s actually its name – “and how they opted not to use subtitles for it to keep the audience tightly in the protagonist, Claire’s, point of view. Since she doesn’t understand the Gaelic, we don’t get subtitles for it. In other parts of the series, they’re in France and, since Claire has French, we get subtitles so that we understand the same content that she does.” That’s an interesting choice.
Megan Figueroa: That’s really interesting, yeah.
Carrie Gillon: “I just thought that was a cool and unusual way for a TV production to approach incorporating an additional language. Also, Outlander does a pretty good job overall of portraying languages and multilingualism in a positive light. One of the main characters, Jaime, is a polyglot. In the books, he’s described as having a talent for languages and he knows at least English, Scotts – Scottish Gaelic – French, German, Latin, and I think Classical Greek. Claire speaks French and English. More recent seasons also include Spanish, Mohawk and, if I remember correctly, a character who speaks Dutch. Anyhow, they build a world that includes the basic assumption that people will and should speak different languages, which is refreshing.” I agree.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah!
Carrie Gillon: “There’re still some arseholes. One scene stands out in which a bunch of British soldiers make fun of a Scotsman’s phonology, but it’s a really enjoyable series with a lot of details that language nerds can enjoy. Hope you get a chance to check it out.” Thank you, Kelly.
Megan Figueroa: Well, now I have to watch it because a listener suggested it.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. And also the language stuff does pique my interest quite a bit.
Megan Figueroa: Is it on Netflix? Do we know?
Carrie Gillon: I do not know. I’m sure listeners will let us know.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Also, this is not an advertisement for Netflix.
Carrie Gillon: Unless they would like to. [Laughter] Yeah, Netflix, you wanna send some of those billions of dollars you’re spending on content. Doesn’t even have to be in the millions.
Megan Figueroa: No. No. We’re very humble people over here.
Carrie Gillon: Very humbled all the time by things. [Laughter] All right. Well, this week’s episode is all about storytelling. We talk with Anna Marie Trester – not Anna Maria, which I briefly mis-call her.
Megan Figueroa: Me too. What a good sport.
Carrie Gillon: Yes.
Carrie Gillon: Today, we have Dr. Anna Marie Trester who is the founder of Career Linguist. She’s an educator, researcher, and consultant who is passionate about bringing linguistics to work. She helps linguists figure out better ways of articulating how our expertise is useful and helps a world of work use linguists to solve the kinds of puzzles we are uniquely equipped to solve. She’s also interested in storytelling as the author of Bringing Linguistics to Work: A Story Listening, Story Finding and Story Telling Approach to Your Career. Welcome, Anna Maria – Anna Marie? Anna Maria. [Laughter]
Anna Marie Trester: Oh, yeah. That has been my whole life. I answer to both. I’ve had business cards that say “Anna Maria” and I, yeah, I understand and celebrate this.
Carrie Gillon: Well, it also makes me think of Anna Maria Tremonti – a Canadian journalist – and I think that’s where I always wanna go because your name is so close.
Megan Figueroa: And you’re from southern Arizona so, like, or at least spend a lot of time.
Anna Marie Trester: I’ve lived a significant portion of my life in Tucson – high school, college. And, yeah, I still light up – I was at a book reading the other night and the author hinted that she was from Arizona. And it’s like, “Where are you from?” And she goes, “Tucson.” And ahh! [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: I love that. Surely, you’re not the only Anna Maria in Tucson.
Carrie Gillon: Anna Marie.
Megan Figueroa: I mean – I know. That’s what I’m saying, you know?
Anna Marie Trester: Also, there’re Tresters in Tucson. My last name is quite uncommon, but when I say “Trester” in Tucson, I’m often asked, “Are you related to the So-and-So Tresters?” I am not, that I know of.
Megan Figueroa: Well, you’re so close – Rebecca Traister.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, yeah! [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: I’m sorry. What we’re really saying is, your name is very, very perfect and interesting.
Anna Marie Trester: I love it. I teach storytelling to people, and one of the first ice breakers that I like to do is tell a story about your name. There are endless – or I do this at networking events too. We just go around and, you know, the linguists always have interesting stories to tell about their names. It’s a great way to start.
Megan Figueroa: So, you say you spend a lot of time in Tucson, but I am hearing a little bit of Minnesota.
Anna Marie Trester: I’m Canadian and mid-western. I moved around a lot when I was growing up and I blame that on why I became a linguist because every time I moved, I would have an accent, and then try to not have an accent, and then have more of an accent, and what I have now is a big mix.
Megan Figueroa: Well, I think every linguist has some sort of story or a moment where they realize that their language was X or someone else’s and they want to know the answer, and then all of a sudden, they’re down this rabbit hole of what is linguistics.
Anna Marie Trester: 30 years later.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Sure.
Carrie Gillon: Let’s begin with Career Linguist. Why did you start that?
Anna Marie Trester: Well, it’s a funny story actually. I was teaching at Georgetown University. I was the director of a program that was focused on professional applications of linguistics – the MLC shout out, the MLC program, Masters in Language and Communication at Georgetown. I taught them a course that was called “The Professionalization Seminar.” In the course, one of the things that we did was your picked an organization and your did an ethnography – I called it a mini ethnography – where you spent some time and, if you could, get in the doors of that organization. Be an ethnographer. Talk to people who work there, spend any time that you can learning about it in any way that you can.
Anyways, we were doing this project and my students were like, “Why aren’t you doing an ethnography of an organization of interest?” It’s like, “Oh, okay. I accept that challenge.” So, they had a portfolio that was an online portfolio. I had been kinda blogging and doing some stuff but, you know, put it all together into Career Linguist. That started in, like, 20 – I mean, that was probably 20 – oh, yeah. In the aughts we said 2006.
Megan Figueroa: Yep. We sure did.
Anna Marie Trester: I mean, I first was dabbling when I was a graduate student then I guess it became – I think it became a thing in like 2012/2014 that I was Career Linguist. I even forget. Anyways, that’s how it started. Then, over the years blogging, sort of found my voice – what is this gonna be? Why am I trying to say? Who am I trying to talk to? Defining – so now I would say, yeah, it’s a resource center and it’s a blog where I share ideas about career. I think, write, and speak about career – so musings and job ads. Today I posted some job ads up there.
Megan Figueroa: What does a job ad look like that you might wanna share with people?
Anna Marie Trester: I share things that I come across that sound interesting. The ones I posted this morning were job ads for an organization called “Appen,” who’ve actually hired me recently to talk about – they wanna think about making recruiting be more human.
Megan Figueroa: Instead of algorithms and stuff?
Anna Marie Trester: Yeah. I’m actually organizing networking events in different cities where people who work at the organization come – and I’m hoping to do one in Tucson soon, or Phoenix. We’ll see. This organization hires tons of linguists. No matter where you go in the states or in Australia – they’re actually housed in Australia, this organization. I dunno if they’re gonna send me to Australia but – hey! If anyone’s listening, who wants to? That’d be great.
But just get people to talk about “You work here. What’s it like to work here? I’m thinking about working here,” just bringing it to an interpersonal interaction. Then, I posted another job. I have been really interested in Nextdoor. I dunno if you know this app. It’s big out here and – I live in Silicon Valley area. They seem to be very thoughtful about what that app can do. It builds community. They’re always asking, and they listed: sociologist, psychologist, anthropologist.
And I’m like, “Hello! You’re looking for a linguist.” They want people who are thoughtful about community and are theorizing about community and the role of social media in organizing community. They cite Bowling Alone, extensively – you never see this in a job ad where they’re doing a lit review and citing research, so I need to meet whoever this is that’s writing these job ads.
It’s an app where people can get to know their neighbors, ask things like –
Carrie Gillon: This one, yes!
Anna Marie Trester: You’ll ask like, “Is there a power outage?” This kind of thing. “Did somebody just hear a noise? What was that?”
Megan Figueroa: I joined that and then, as someone who likes true crime as – like, I’m one of those women that listen to true crime for my anxiety – I thought that it was really scary because people were like, “Why are the cops” – so I was informed of every situation in which the cops were involved.
Anna Marie Trester: This is why they need a social – they know that they need people to be thoughtful –
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. That’s good.
Anna Marie Trester: Yeah! They’re aware.
Megan Figueroa: Right. And it was a little bit racist.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, there’re a lot of people on there who’re racist, yeah.
Megan Figueroa: I was like, “Why are you informing me that a sketchy-looking person was walking through the neighborhood?” Let people walk through fucking neighborhoods, you know?
Anna Marie Trester: Well, if that conversation happens there, it’s a tool, it’s a platform, so people have these conversations. Exactly this conversation happens weekly, daily.
Megan Figueroa: This kind of job would be to see what people – you kinda wanna be behind the scenes and see how that can be facilitated or prevented or what is that, do you think?
Anna Marie Trester: I have so many different jobs, but the one that I posted was about – so they call it the “product.” This is how Silicon Valley talks about the community as a product. So, these people are thinking about how the technology, I guess, could be structured. I’m not a tech person, but I like to think about how tech needs us because they do.
So, I mean, kudos to them. They’re realizing they need someone who’s aware of social science and human theory to think about how they’re developing this technology so that, if there is that – if that is making certain conversations really easy to have – maybe we can shape that.
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely. Then, you need – this is great – you need linguists because – or people that think about these questions – because then you’re like, “Okay. At what point is it hate speech, and when can we flag that, and when are encroaching on the first amendment?” and all of that.
Carrie Gillon: Well, it doesn’t encroach on first amendment because it’s not the government.
Megan Figueroa: Ah. Good point. Yes. But that’s not – so I did a, how do you say it, a consultation with a tech company and they were asking me these questions about their avatars and if people can talk to each other about these things, when will people feel like their first amendment rights are being encroached upon?
It’s not just that maybe they know, perhaps, that they can do whatever they want, but they don’t want people to feel like their rights are being encroached upon because then people get pissy.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. They do. Because they don’t understand what the law actually is.
Megan Figueroa: As I just showed. [Laughter] I’m just in the presence of Anna Marie and I’m thinking about all these ways linguists can help people in other sorts of jobs.
Anna Marie Trester: Absolutely.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, who thinks – we don’t think about it enough.
Anna Marie Trester: We have something to say in every – we are thoughtful about language and communication and how it means, like, how language does things everywhere. No matter where you are, if you’re working, you’re using language, so you could use a linguist. You need a linguist. I’ll say it.
Carrie Gillon: Everyone needs a linguist. They just don’t know that they need one.
Anna Marie Trester: They just don’t know it.
Megan Figueroa: Just put that linguist in your pocket. You need one. Just carry it around.
Anna Marie Trester: I think a lot about job ads, right? I actually was writing – I’m putting an activity in my new book where I’m calling it, “Put yourself into conversation with a job ad.” This is an activity that I like to do. There was a job that I saw recently at Earthjustice, this is a law firm that focuses on climate change. Their tagline, I love it, is “Because the earth needs a good lawyer.”
Megan Figueroa: Aw, that’s awesome!
Anna Marie Trester: That’s their organizational catchphrase. But then they’ve realized that they need people to be helping them communicate internally, like within the organization, and the way that they wrote this job ad, it’s just – I’m putting it in my book. I’m using it as an example of when you see a job ad like this, it almost is – they’re not asking for a linguist, but they are saying what they need is someone who can help them be thoughtful about how they are talking to each other in ways that can be excluding or –
You know, when people think about diversity, they’re like, “Oh, yeah. We need to hire more. Yeah. It’s great. Hire more diverse teams.” Then, the work really begins when we start talking about thinking about how does the way that interact, talk inclusivity into being. It’s gonna happen all day every day, a thousand times a day, that there’s gonna be a million interactions that we can all be more thoughtful about.
Megan Figueroa I’m actually impressed that they got to that point because a lot of places will check the box of being quote-unquote “diverse” because they hired someone that doesn’t look like everyone else or whatever. Then, it stops there.
Anna Marie Trester: It starts there.
Megan Figueroa: Exactly, right? Yeah!
Carrie Gillon: Well, I think it’s actually certain kinds of organizations are more thoughtful about this than others. Universities are possibly – I might as well say the worst – but they’re way behind some kind of organizations because they’re just – they’re like, “Well, we’re good. We have all these students from all over the place.”
Anna Marie Trester: Carrie, I love that you say that because – so a lot of people reach out to me with questions about applying for jobs. They’ll see a job ad or have an interaction with somebody where they’re like, “This person isn’t very thoughtful about – they’re telling me I need to get more training in Python.” And you’re gonna encounter plenty of people who don’t get it, but we have to be okay – better than okay – we have to welcome this opportunity to talk about who we are, or what we do, what we can bring.
A lot of people aren’t gonna get it, and that doesn’t mean that we need to stop. That’s why we need to keep talking about why we care about what we care about and what we can offer because we have – I say, the world needs us. The world needs more of us.
Megan Figueroa: I was thinking recently about what happened because I’m on a campus and there was an ad for an accent modification workshop, and I was just thinking, it’s like, “Someone probably asked for that or require” – I don’t know who on the uppers wanted it. But why can’t there be someone that’s like, “If we’re gonna do that, we need to do accent accommodation workshops too” or something like that? If this is something that we’re really gonna keep doing – because I see it all the time, and I don’t see it dying.
Anna Marie Trester: Well, so my dissertation research was on improv, so I take a “Yes, and…” approach always to life. It’s how I think. When I was at Georgetown, the business school approached me. Somebody went to a conference and learned about ethnography, and then they came back and looked at the course calendar – who’s teaching ethnography – and it was me. They brought me over for a meeting and they were like, “We wanna have some resources for our international students.” And I was like, “Yes, and what I see here is an opportunity to talk to everybody about what we all can learn about” –
To their credit, they took me up on it and that turned into a five-year project that we called “Talking Business” where we all learned – and we have so much that we can learn from the experience of an international student who can tell us so much about what they’re learning and observing about how we communicate.
Megan Figueroa: Perhaps here how when they’re in class, how hard it is for them when they’re listening to an American accent. I mean, just these things that would make others more empathetic toward others.
Anna Marie Trester: Well, at the end of the day, we just have to realize that our ways of speaking are always unique. We decide that there is a way that we talk to one another, but that is always contextually situated and negotiated and constructed.
Megan Figueroa: “Talking Business” – I love that. I’m happy to hear to there are some places that are running with this idea of we’re all in this together, basically, as cheesy as it sounds.
Anna Marie Trester: It is so much fun. They really opened their doors to us. What we did was they let us record all of their interactions. Then, when somebody in that group wanted to know – we just would offer it to them. Like, “If you would like to have a conversational style consult, let us know.” If they said yes to us – and I’m gonna be reaching out to these folks because it’s now been 10 years, so how has this – has this helped? I hope that it has.
We would be able to pull up – we had video. And I had, at that time, a team of seven research assistants, so we could cue up the video and we could find an example of them, like, “This is how you have an argument with a classmate,” “This is how you make a persuasive presentation,” “This is how you” – and we could help them be thoughtful and reflective on, “This is how you are using language. Here’s some ways that could be interpreted, misinterpreted. There’s ways that this makes a lot of sense in this context, how could this” –
I had one student, he was about to become a Dean, and he realized that he had to totally recalibrate – moving from being a student to being a Dean – he had to totally recalibrate how you do humility, for example. When invested with a lot of institutional power, it’s totally different how you be folksy.
Megan Figueroa: That’s something I didn’t even think about because I just don’t have a lot of power, Anna Marie, so I don’t have to think about how I talk when it comes – how am I gonna sound more down to earth? Well, I couldn’t be further down here.
Carrie Gillon: There’s always lower you could be.
Megan Figueroa: I know. I’m sure. [Laughter]
Anna Marie Trester: With Career Linguist, I find I’m often experimenting with trying on a little bit more power. There’s ways that, especially women – and we live in a world where what gets heard as “confident,” and I’m using air quotes. People love to tell women, “You need to change the way that you talk You need to sound more confident. And you need to” – you know?
Megan Figueroa: Right. Plus vocal fry.
Anna Marie Trester: Aye yae yae. Okay. Let’s think about what gets heard as confident. I’m working on this new book that is – right now, I’m calling it, “Employing Linguistics,” we’ll see how that – I want there to be that ambiguity because it’s about work, but it’s not just about work. It’s how you use linguistics.
I’m starting off with a story from a woman who’s just starting off her professional life. She just graduated. She’s got a masters in linguistics, and she’s launching her own business. And I do workshops. I travel and do workshops at linguistics departments around the country and world, now. I went to Finland last –
Megan Figueroa: Ooo!
Anna Marie Trester: It was so great. Yeah. In Finland, they were saying, “Maybe it’s just here, but we have a hard time projecting power.” Like, “Yeah, no, it’s not just here.” But I was playing them this interview from this woman because they were saying, “She doesn’t sound confident.” And I’m like, “And yet, I’m telling you, this woman is launching her own business. She knows what the hell she’s doing. She’s doing it.” Okay. We need to really question what we are saying when we say, “That person sounds” –
Megan Figueroa: Going back to job ads, some of the language they use in job ads is so off-putting.
Carrie Gillon: It makes it sound really boring, a.), and then b.), yeah, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t think they want someone like me.”
Megan Figueroa: Or I’m like, “Is there some tinge of sexism or something here?” And I’m like, “Do I wanna work for them?”
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. That’s kinda what I meant.
Anna Marie Trester: This is where I mean we have to – I like to say that we linguists, we lean in when we hear miscommunication, misunderstanding – yeah. There are problems, and they need us. I mentioned that collaboration. I’m finding this organization, Appen, they’re open to me talking with them about even it starts with the job ad. When you’re talking about who you’re looking for, there’s gonna be – we all have a way that we can become more aware of how we’re using language and embedding our own perspective. This is a process that we all need to be working.
Megan Figueroa: Someone emailed me and asked me for some perspective on a job that they were sending out. My first thought was, “Can you explicitly put that ‘You may read these job qualifications and think that you’re not qualified. Try anyway’?”
Anna Marie Trester: Nice.
Megan Figueroa: Because I’m like – this is something that I run into where I’m like – and I have to be like, “All right. Put on your cap and think about all the people that are just like” – you know, more confidently.
Anna Marie Trester: “I have one of those things.”
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Just be more like that because you never know. I wanted them to put that specifically because it’s women or other minoritized people that are going to read that and say, “I’ll pass on even applying.”
Anna Marie Trester: Absolutely. A thousand times, yes.
Megan Figueroa: I was happy just to know that someone was reaching out, that people are being more thoughtful about this.
Anna Marie Trester: People are. They need help. And we’re gonna make mistakes. We’re gonna make a couple of mistakes. We need to get better at – this is where my improv, I think, is such a boon to me because it really taught me how to make mistakes and to be a little bit easier about “I messed that up and we need to try again.”
Megan Figueroa: What? Are you telling me that improv is basically therapy? Is that what you’re saying? Because it’s like, that’s where I learned that!
Anna Marie Trester: What if I told you my improv troupe was called “Cheaper Than Therapy”? [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: Oh, perfect. Well, I mean, it’s funny because you said you’re always “Yes, and…” because my therapist taught me that.
Carrie Gillon: So, your therapist is probably from improv because –
Megan Figueroa: I think that’s what they’re teaching now to people that go this route – all these new techniques. But it’s like, sure –
Carrie Gillon: Someone from improv started that.
Megan Figueroa: The facilitator of what workshop or whatever.
Anna Marie Trester: I taught improv for about 10 years in Washington, DC. I got so many people, they would tell me, that they came into improv because their therapist told them to come to improv. I started having relationships with therapists who were recommending their clients come to work with me because they knew that I was thoughtful and welcoming, particularly embracing of this kind of work.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, it applies to anything, right? Just thinking of getting to the jobs ads, maybe you’re looking at these qualifications and you might say to yourself, “Ah, I don’t have the two years of experience. Yes, and I have so much experience in X.” It’s just a way to remind yourself that – I dunno. It’s a way to be kind to yourself. That’s what I’ve learned, for sure.
Anna Marie Trester: I call job ads a wish list. That’s some committee’s wish list. That’s great. They can ask for their purple unicorn. That’s fine. This is the real world, and you’re gonna get somebody who’s gonna have 10%, 20%, 30% of what you’re asking for.
Megan Figueroa: I just helped a friend. I was like, “No. You need to apply for this. I don’t care that you think that you’re not – you really want it. Try.”
Anna Marie Trester: Absolutely. There’s often – I dunno if you’ve read the book, there’s a book written by Stanford Design School professors called Designing Your Life. They are kind of down on job applications. They say don’t even look at them. But I say do look at them because that’s enough to look at and see if there is a spark. If there is any interest, then go for it and use that to start a conversation, use that to launch in.
But the truth is, so few jobs actually – when you look at the hiring process – or [pɹoʊsɛs] – there’s such a misalignment. There’s so few job ads that actually correspond to the thing that gets hired. I look at their book to talk about the numbers. I’m not the most quantitatively oriented person. But it’s a lot. Know that if you find a slight interest, a slight alignment, apply, and it could well be that there’s another job or a different job or a new job that they see when they see your materials. They think, “Oh, we didn’t even know that we were looking for this person. Let’s create a job for them.”
Megan Figueroa: You have clients. Are your clients the companies that are looking for linguists?
Anna Marie Trester: Sometimes. It’s a new thing started last year where I have this organization that’s trying to – I would like for it to be both. But it has been, for many years, that I’ve been working with universities to help their students or individual jobseekers to help make their materials –
Megan Figueroa: So, someone could send you their materials and you’d be pointing out, “Why aren’t you talking about how great you are at this? Obviously, you have this skill.”
Anna Marie Trester: Yeah. I feel like I give – I hope I give – a different – I’m not your typical resume helper person. I’ll look at a cover letter and I’ll notice things like you are not shifting your dietic center the way that you should be. This is a classic thing. In cover letters, people write about why this will be a great job for me – this will be a wonderful opportunity for me. It’s understandable, right? You’re in your head and you’re thinking about “Wow, I speak French. This will be a great opportunity to practice my French.”
What you have to do in job materials or at large, but especially in a cover letter, you need to say, “You need someone who speaks French because think about how that’s gonna help you with this initiative that I see you talking about in the press.” That signals a lot of things. That signals that you’ve been reading about them, you’ve been thinking about them, and that you’re thinking about how your skills help them.
Megan Figueroa: Because they are their center, right? They’re thinking about them, so make sure you appeal to them.
Anna Marie Trester: Yeah.
Megan Figueroa You do work with the Linguistics Society of America?
Anna Marie Trester: For four years, and now I stepped down. Anastasia Nylund and I were the co-organizers of a special interest group for “Linguistics Beyond Academia.”
Megan Figueroa: Okay. That was you.
Anna Marie Trester: We restarted it. It had been started a long time ago. We sort of breathed new life into it in 2014. We carried the torch for four years. Now, we’ve passed it off to a team that has a ton of energy and they are just kicking butt. We just had the meeting – were you there?
Megan Figueroa: I wasn’t there, no. It was my first time. I haven’t been in a while. I had a little bit of fomo but – yeah.
Anna Marie Trester: I was telling Carrie, one of the top tweets for a long time about the conference at the #LSA2020, one of the top tweets from a presentation that one of our SIG members made to a department chair meeting where it was a list of dos and don’ts for when your students get a non-academic job. The big don’t was – and somebody took a picture of this. It was Lauren Collister, and her tweet blew up. It was, “Don’t say ‘We’ll miss you.’ Say, ‘How wonderful! You got a job that I hope you’ll come back and tell us about. Keep us connected to you. Keep coming back and telling our students.’” That’s an act of erasure that is probably not intended. How othering is that? That is so common.
Carrie Gillon: It happened to me after I decided, “You know what? Fuck this shit.” One of my Facebook friends, who I’d known since I was an undergrad, he was like, “Oh, we’ll miss you.” And I was like, a.) I still have stuff coming out. Still. I still do. And b.) what? We’re still connected on Facebook. We’re still gonna be –
Megan Figueroa: You’re not not a linguist anymore.
Carrie Gillon: Right. I’m still a linguist. I’m still doing stuff with language. I dunno. I was mad.
Megan Figueroa: As you should be, yeah. When I graduated, someone told me, “It’s a shame because you’re such a good researcher.” And I was like –
Carrie Gillon: Like you can’t do research anywhere else?
Megan Figueroa: I still am. I don’t have a tenure track job or I’m not a postdoc, but I’m still doing research. It was like, “Ugh. I know you mean so well.” I can tell that you think that’s a very – you’re speaking highly of me, and I get it, but it hurts. I’m glad that you brought that up because I just want to say to all of the undergrads and grad students listening that you don’t have to go into academia. If someone shames you for it, that’s some of their stuff going on.
Carrie Gillon: It’s part of the cult of academia, right?
Megan Figueroa: It is. Absolutely. I hope you have an advisor that is comfortable enough with whatever. I know the numbers look good when you have, “Oh, look. My student went to tenure track.” I know that’s what’s underpinning all of this, but it’s like, academia doesn’t look like it did 30 years ago. Not everyone wants to be a professor. All these things. It has to be okay.
Anna Marie Trester: I have to say it again, the world needs us. On this panel that we had at the LSA, we had an asylum officer talking about how his linguistics – of course, his linguistics skills come into play a thousand times a day as an asylum officer. The world has some wicked problems.
Carrie Gillon: I think lawyers should hire linguists on retainer because we can help you a lot.
Anna Marie Trester: Sometimes, I show up at a school and people are like, “I’m gonna get an academia job!” And I’m like, “Okay. Wonderful.” I’m not trying to take that away from anybody. I was scared too when I – so I started this job, I was one of those PhD students who was gonna get an academic job and I just knew it. I had magical thinking it was just gonna work out. When I was graduating, there was this program that was starting at Georgetown, and my advisor, Deborah Schiffrin – well, she was one of my committee members. She was not my advisor. Sorry, Natalie. Natalie was my advisor. Deborah Schiffrin was on my committee.
She advised me in that moment to apply for this job. She said, “This is why you’d be good at it.” Again, talking about how we don’t think about our own expertise. Before grad school, I had worked in an investment bank. I had some industry experience and I came to linguistics from that. Anyways, I was good at that job, but the whole time I was still applying for academic jobs, and I was gonna get an academic job, and I was convinced that was the path that I was on and, gradually, started to realize that –
Oh, now I remember what I was gonna say. The point I was gonna make was that Debbie Schiffrin, when she was getting me started with this job, she was like, “Okay. The first thing you’re gonna do is have 50 informational interviews.” And I was like, “What’s an informational interview? Huh?” I didn’t know. One of the reasons I wouldn’t have thought to apply for that job is I dunno how to help grad students figure out non-academic careers.
So, I just started – well, “Yes, and…” – having these informational interviews where I went and talked to alum and said, “What do you do? How does your linguistics come here?” One of the first ones I went to was an alum who worked at the Census Bureau. She’s like, “I have the best job, right? Of all the people that you’ve talked to, I have the best one, right?” And I was like, “You’re the first one. I don’t know! Maybe? You seem really happy.”
She was so happy with her job, and so in touch with how her work was really having real world – she had done research in Chinese – well, she was, herself, a speaker of Mandarin, I believe, and she was helping the Census Bureau think about, as they were bringing surveys to Chinese-speaking communities, there was a way that they were gonna need to restructure the letters so a, quote-unquote, “American style” – like a white, non-thinking-about-it style would be to say, “Please complete this survey because blah, blah, blah.”
But in the discourse style of Chinese-speaking communities, you needed to structure the request such that it said, “Background, background, background, background, background, build up to the request.” The survey, when it was restructured that way, was getting a much higher – people were actually responding and getting the data that the data that the Census Bureau needed.
Megan Figueroa: And she did that. She helped with that.
Anna Marie Trester: She did that.
Megan Figueroa: Awesome. Especially since it’s so fucking important – the census.
Anna Marie Trester: Yeah.
Megan Figueroa: That’s awesome.
Carrie Gillon: I’m looking forward to it coming. I like filling those things out.
Megan Figueroa: I know! I do too. I remember being 10 years old or, like, 13, and being like, “Can I fill it out, Dad? Can I be the one? Can I do it?” Such a nerd.
Anna Marie Trester: They have a bunch of linguists working there.
Megan Figueroa: That’s good. That’s awesome. Doesn’t every state have their own little census bureau too? I mean, I’m just thinking about all of – there’s so many places for linguists. It’s not just like there’s one centralized census bureau. Every state has something that’s working on these things and all of that. So many jobs.
You collect stories for your books?
Anna Marie Trester: It’s one of the things that I do, yeah.
Megan Figueroa: That’s the kind of stories that you’re collecting?
Anna Marie Trester: As a community, we need to hear more stories. I think through stories we learn about the different kinds of things that people can do with their skills and training in linguistics. That’s why I’m writing this book now, again, another one, because I felt like the last book I wrote didn’t have enough stories. It had, like, five, but now I wanna have 50 because I wanna tell a story of career diversity.
That’s one of the ways that – I have this approach where I think about story telling, story listening, and story finding. The story telling part of that work is just getting lots of stories out there. Then, I advocate for an approach that is more ongoing. It’s sort of like what I was talking about when I’m talking about that job at Earthjustice that I see having such potential. We could learn a lot from paying attention to the stories, listening to the stories that are being told in a job application, at the workplace. Adopting a story listening approach could be really informative about anything.
I always think about Charlotte Linde’s work when I think about story listening. She was hired for many years by NASA to – well, I always say she was chasing astronauts around, but I think that’s not exactly what she did all day. She could capture the stories of missions when they were being retired. It was one of the things that she did. They had her having her job responsibility, they called it “Knowledge Management.” But, as a linguist, she has expertise in what is the knowledge – the expert knowledge – that is contained in these stories that will not – they will not be codified when these people retire, or leave, or this mission gets retired.
Having someone who’s listening for a story and being very thoughtful about the knowledge and wisdom and institutional best practices that are contained in – so, again, everybody needs one of those linguists story listening at their organization.
Carrie Gillon: That’s amazing.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. I wanna work for NASA!
Anna Marie Trester: I visited her one day and I was like, “Charlotte, you are doing nothing to dissuade me from saying you have the coolest job in the world” because she took me to the Mars model and we were chasing around –
Carrie Gillon: Oh, man! [Laughter] Dream job.
Megan Figueroa: I was gonna say, isn’t every little nerdy kid’s dream job NASA? You don’t even know what part of NASA. You’re just like – NASA!
Carrie Gillon: Well, when I first went to university, I went into engineering because I was like, “Star Trek. Yeah. I’m gonna build shuttles.” Then, I was like, “Nope. Hate this.” But if linguistics could’ve gotten me there – oh, man!
Megan Figueroa: Yeah! You’d want her job the whole time.
Anna Marie Trester: Linguistics got Charlotte Linde to NASA twice. Twice! You’ll have to read her story in my book to learn how. In the book, I’m telling stories about how people use their linguistics as a Mom, or how people use their linguistics in bystander activism. It’s not just at work. But, for many of us, work is gonna be the way that we bring – I grew up in a family that doesn’t have a ton of money, so my job was gonna be how I travelled. It was gonna be how I got to try on different worlds and explore. Career has been a major way that I have expressed my sense of contributing to the world.
For many of us, it is that too. It is not just our livelihood – but it is also our livelihood – but if you’re trying to use your career to express meaning and purpose and find that broader “What do I wanna give to the world?” it’s gonna be more bottom up, I think. It’s both. It’s top down and bottom up.
Carrie Gillon: That, I think, is particularly for people who went into academia. That’s really important for us is that we wanna be doing meaningful work.
Anna Marie Trester: One of my favorite networking groups – I participate in this group here in the Bay Area called “Ethnobreakfast.” A lot of them are –
Megan Figueroa: That’s just nerdy.
Anna Marie Trester: It’s so nerdy. All right. Professors who are listening, do this. This was a professor of anthropology. She has kept such a tight, close community of her grads that, every month, one of them invites a group of nerds into their workplace. We all trudge out to Facebook or to Workday, and we sit for an hour. We read – well, whatever the host gets to decide what we’re gonna read. We all read something. Then, we talk about some theoretical thing or.
They get to invite their colleagues who get to learn a little bit more about “I always knew that you had this anthropology or ethnography or linguistic interest, but I didn’t know how you used it or how it came” – they get to learn about us. We get to learn about them. I think this should be happening everywhere.
Carrie Gillon: That sounds amazing.
Anna Marie Trester: It’s breakfast, so it is early in the morning. But it doesn’t cut into anybody’s workday. We have it from 8:30 to 9:30 on a Friday which, let’s be honest, who can start to work at 9:00 a.m. on a Friday anyway? We all bring – it’s a potlatch. It doesn’t cost anyone anything. Those are the conversations that we need to be – okay. So, story finding. Talk about a little cue that I left for a long time. That’s what I think of when I think of story finding. Let’s look for places where conversations could be happening but aren’t and let’s build spaces for them.
Megan Figueroa: I would totally go to that breakfast.
Carrie Gillon: Me too.
Anna Marie Trester: It’s the best. Make one! So many alum from U of A are doing so many interesting things. For the record, I think that that’s what your podcast is also – a story finding thing. You’re out there making space for conversations that should be happening, but they haven’t been.
Carrie Gillon: I agree. It’s also story telling by letting the rest of the world who are not linguists know that, hey, these are things to think about. We should think about that more carefully than we have, but absolutely.
Anna Marie Trester: It seems like what we’re talking about are these tiny little interactions. I was inspired – I was telling Carrie – by Anne Charity Hudley’s amazing plenary at the LSA. She was sharing this model, and this is a social activism model, where it’s tiny little changes, when they are amplified a hundred-fold and consistently reinforced, that’s a movement. I think we’re engaged in a movement. It’s gonna be tiny little things, but they are happening all over the place. When you hear those little moments, or those little moments where you caught yourself being an asshole or –
Carrie Gillon: Which we all do.
Anna Marie Trester: Try to adopt that mindset of like, “Here’s a moment. Here’s a tiny moment.” We can be easy about it, and we can admit that we make mistakes and learn – after Anne’s plenary, I went up and tried to say this, so I’ll say what I sort of said that we all have to adopt a learning mindset. It’s so powerful.
We’re bringing these messages to people with power so, especially people with power out there, remember, when you have power, it is especially important that you adopt this learning mindset and remember that it feels – I think sometimes people with power, it feels very dangerous to let go of any of that power or to admit that you could make a mistake.
Megan Figueroa: That’s why I was afraid of this podcast. I mean, this is my little bit of power, right, too, where I was like, “What if I say something wrong?”
Carrie Gillon: A.) we can edit.
Megan Figueroa: It was very scary.
Carrie Gillon: B.) we can learn!
Megan Figueroa: Yes. The learning part has been very – I thought it would be scary, but it’s actually very freeing.
Anna Marie Trester: It’s like this for me. It’s human.
Megan Figueroa: It is, yeah. Absolutely.
Anna Marie Trester: I remember K-Cat – Kathryn Campbell-Kibler – at a session at LSA a couple years ago where she invited us to come practice in the lobby. They had a panel on ethics. Then, she was like, “Meet me in the lobby.” And I was like, “Oh my god! I’ll be there.” I was there early. “Let’s practice having these conversations.” It was just – let’s practice having these conversations where we just say, “Huh. That wasn’t great” or “We can do better,” however we learn how to say these things.
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely. I think that all boils down to, don’t be an asshole, right?
Anna Marie Trester: It is absolutely how you do, don’t be an asshole. That’s how we all make sure that happens. We’re all responsible for it. Yeah!
Carrie Gillon: Acknowledging that you made a mistake is Step 1, and it’s good to acknowledge.
Anna Marie Trester: What a life-affirming conversation.
Carrie Gillon: I know! This has been great.
Anna Marie Trester: Go be awesome.
Megan Figueroa: I’m gonna cancel therapy on Tuesday.
Anna Marie Trester: Go share your power with the world.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Go be empowered, for sure. Thank you so much for being our guest today.
Anna Marie Trester: Thank you guys.
Carrie Gillon: It was so great.
Megan Figueroa: It’s been so lovely.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Don’t be an asshole.
Megan Figueroa: Don’t be an Asshole.
Anna Marie Trester: Yes, and…
Carrie Gillon: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by me, Carrie Gillon, for Halftone Audio, theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and our website is vocalfriespod.com.