Q and A with Ann Bunger

Can you summarize everything you’ve done in life in 30 to 45 seconds?

I went to Northwestern for graduate school. I picked that because they had a nice interdisciplinary program. Linguists work a lot with psychologists so I was looking for a program that specialized in psycholinguistics and experimental work in particular. And I worked in a psych lab while I was there and got a PhD in Linguistics. And then from there I went and got a post-doc at the University of Pennsylvania at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science/Psychology department. I was there for two years doing research. And then kind of jointly with that for the last five years I was working with the University of Delaware as a post-doc in Psychology.

The research that I do focuses mostly on kids, what kids know about the world and the way they describe the world. So in my dissertation I looked at how kids learn the meanings of new words and how they pick out which part of an event a new verb applies to. And what I was doing in my post-doc was cross-linguistic work looking at the way that speakers of different languages describe events and when kids start to  become like adults in terms of the way they describe events when they start using the syntactic patterns of the language and the encoding patterns of the language. And also how what you’re saying relates to the way that you’re looking at the world, so combining production studies with eye-tracking to see how people are extracting information from the world.

What do you want to do for the rest of your life?

I’m really happy to be here and I would like to stay here as long as I can. I’ve been doing a lot of research and I wanted to do more teaching. So now I’m doing a lot of teaching, which I really love. I think the students here are great. But I’m doing no research, so I think in the future I’d like to have a balance. Keep doing some teaching but have a little research as well.

What is your favorite animal and why?

I love squid because they are smart and they are delicious. I love to eat them. It was actually here at William and Mary that I developed my love of the squid. I was a bio major here and took invertebrate biology. It was there that we dissected squid. And it was just cool. It had this big eyeball and this proto-backbone and it has an ink sack. And if you take the proto-backbone out you can dip it in ink and write like a pen.

Does that also answer the question of what is your favorite food?

No! Cheeseburger. Yeah, I kept trying to be a vegetarian here but I had to have a cheeseburger and I think I need one every week. It’s the perfect combination.

What’s your favorite language and why?

Well, when people ask me how many languages I know, I say I know one very, very well: English. I don’t have a favorite language. I mean, English is what I know but I don’t know if it’s my favorite language.

In that vein, what is the one language that you wish you could learn?

Spanish. I love Spain. They eat a lot of squid there. But I also don’t know any Romance languages so it’d be useful. I studied German and American Sign Langauge. I like ASL a lot, actually, if you wanna give me a favorite language.

If you could be anything other than a linguist what would it be?

I don’t know, let’s say a cook in a diner. It would have to be one of those fancy old-school diners with the chrome. I’d bake pie. I’d be the baker at the diner and I like apple pie so I’d make that. So I’d be a pie master.

So you graduated in 1997. What professors were here then?

Professors Reed, Taylor, and Martin were here. I believe that was it.

Any funny stories about Professors Reed, Martin, or Taylor?

You know I had very little contact with them. The department was much smaller then and someone was always on sabbatical it seemed. So we just took the class they offered that semester. There weren’t really that many choices.

If you could do an independent study with a students, what are some topics that would really interest you?

I’d love to do any independent study where students want to collect their own data. To start with, anybody who wants to do an experiment can come see me or Professor Lunden if they want to do experiments with sounds.

So last question, when you were at William and Mary as an undergraduate what were the things that most excited you about the school?

I loved the sense of history and not just colonial history. I used to walk a lot down down Yates path to get from Yates to campus and you can see that all of campus used to be covered by ocean. There are still fossils in the sandbanks, and to be in that history is just amazing.