Open main menu

Shana Poplack, CM FRSC is a distinguished university professor in the linguistics department of the University of Ottawa, where she directs the sociolinguistics laboratory and three time holder of the Canada Research Chair in linguistics. She is a leading proponent of variation theory,[1] the approach to language science pioneered by William Labov. She has extended the methodology and theory of this field into bilingual speech patterns, the prescription-praxis dialectic in the co-evolution of standard and non-standard languages, and the comparative reconstruction of ancestral speech varieties, including African American vernacular English.

Shana Poplack

OccupationLinguist, University Professor


Early life and educationEdit

Born in Detroit, Michigan, and raised in New York City, she studied at Queens College and New York University, then lived in Paris for several years, studying with André Martinet at the Sorbonne before moving to the University of Pennsylvania, where she took her PhD (1979) under Labov's supervision.

Code SwitchingEdit

During three years as a researcher at the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, City University of New York, her studies of code-switching among Puerto Ricans in New York[2] initiated her characterization of universal patterns of intrasentential language mixing, and demonstrated that fluent code-mixing is a bilingual skill rather than a defect. Over three decades, she made numerous contributions to the understanding of bilingual syntax in social context, many involving typologically contrasting language pairs.[3]

Corpus WorkEdit

In 1981 Poplack moved to the University of Ottawa, where she assembled, transcribed and concordanced a “mega-corpus” (body) of conversations among French speakers in the Canadian capital region, providing her and many other researchers with an extraordinary research resource on modern vernacular French.[4]

Historical and Comparative StudiesEdit

Poplack's analyses of vernacular varieties of New World Spanish,[5] Canadian French[6] and English[7] and Brazilian Portuguese[8] are characterized by skepticism towards standard explanations of variation and change based on language simplification or external influences, in favor of historical and comparative studies of internal evolution.

Diasporic EnglishEdit

Poplack's work on the origins of African American Vernacular is based on evidence from elderly descendants of American slaves recorded during fieldwork in isolated communities in the Samaná Peninsula, Dominican Republic (Samana English)[9] and in Nova Scotia.[10] This showed widespread retention of syntactic and morphological features (including the entire tense and aspect system) from earlier British and colonial English, contrary to previous theories attributing such features to a widespread early American creole.[11]

Current projects (2008) focus on contact-induced change in English as a minority language and the role of the school in impeding linguistic change.


Amongst the many awards, the professor has received are a Fulbright visiting scholar award (1990) in Brazil, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1998 and won that society's Pierre Chauveau Medal (2005). She was voted faculty professor of the year (1999), was the University of Ottawa arts and researcher of the year (2003), received a Killam Research Fellowship in 2001 and the Killam prize in 2007. She was awarded a Canada Research Chair in 2001 (renewed in both 2007 and 2014). Poplack was elected fellow of the Linguistic Society of America (2009) and won a Trudeau Foundation fellowship (2007) and the Ontario Premier's Discovery sward (2008). Poplack was awarded the gold medal for achievement in research in 2012 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.[12] In 2014, she was named a Member of the Order of Canada.[13]


Poplack's works include Instant Loans, Easy Conditions: The Productivity of Bilingual Borrowing (1998), a special issue of the International Journal of Bilingualism, with Marjory Meechan, The English History of African American English (2000) and, with Sali Tagliamonte, African American English in the Diaspora (2001), and Borrowing: Loanwords in the Speech Community and in the Grammar Oxford University Press ISBN 9780190256388 [1](2017)


  1. ^ Herk, Gerard (2001). "Shana Poplack" in Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics (ed. Mesthrie, Rajend, Elsevier: 901)
  2. ^ Poplack, Shana (1980) Sometimes I'll start a sentence in Spanish y termino en español: toward a typology of code-switching. Linguistics 18: 581-618.
  3. ^ Poplack, Shana (2004) Code-Switching. In Ammon, U., N. Dittmar, K.J. Mattheier and P. Trudgill (eds), Sociolinguistics. An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. 2nd edition.589-596.
  4. ^ Poplack, Shana (1989) The care and handling of a mega-corpus. In Fasold, R. and D. Schiffrin (eds), Language Change and Variation. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 411-451.
  5. ^ Poplack, Shana (1984) Variable concord and sentential plural marking in Puerto Rican Spanish. The Hispanic Review 52 (2): 205-222.
  6. ^ Poplack, Shana & Anne St-Amand (2007) A real-time window on 19th century vernacular French:The Récits du français québécois d’autrefois. Language In Society 36:5.707-734.
  7. ^ Poplack, Shana, Walker, James & Malcolmson, Rebecca (2006) An English “like no other”?: Language contact and change in Quebec. Canadian Journal of Linguistics. 185-213.
  8. ^ Poplack, Shana, & Malvar, Elisabete (2007) Elucidating the transition period in linguistic change. Probus 19:1: 169-199.
  9. ^ Poplack, Shana & Sankoff, David (1987) The Philadelphia Story in the Spanish Caribbean. American Speech 62 (4): 29l-314.
  10. ^ Poplack, Shana & Tagliamonte, Sali (1991) African American English in the diaspora: Evidence from old-line Nova Scotians. Language Variation and Change 3: 301-339.
  11. ^ Rickford, John (1998) The creole origins of AAVE: Evidence from copula absence. In Mufwene, S., Rickford, J.R., Bailey, G. and Baugh, J. (eds) African American English. London: Routledge.
  12. ^ "SSHRC 2012 Gold Medal for Achievement in Research". The Social Sciences and Reserarch Council of Canada. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
  13. ^ "Order of Canada Appointments". June 30, 2014. Retrieved July 1, 2014.

External linksEdit