Regular Michigan Radio contributor Anne Curzan says she is a linguist partly because her “mathy” brain gets the system of the English language.
But what really inspired her to make the study of English her life’s calling was the creativity and quirkiness that often shapes the evolution of words.
“Students have taught me some great slang words, from ‘chillax,’ back when that was new, to ‘epic fail’ to ‘adorkable’ to ‘struggle bus.’ When you are having a hard time, you are on the struggle bus; I love that,” says Curzan. She is a professor of English language and literature and professor of linguistics, LSA, and professor of education in the School of Education.
At 9:35 a.m. each Sunday, she celebrates the adorkable quirks and odd contradictions of the English language on her Michigan Radio program “That’s What They Say.” Curzan often examines current usage trends. They include young people choosing to say “on accident” rather than “by accident,” and the revival of the “t” in “often,” which since the Renaissance has been left silent.
On another show, she discussed fussy bloggers who “go grammando” to dis others by exposing their grammar flaws.
“I am fascinated by how language has changed in the past and continues to change in the present. I’m also very interested in people’s attitudes about language variation and change,” she says. “I’m trying to help people enjoy more, and worry and judge less.”
Curzan’s fascination with words started as a child in Chevy Chase, Md. She recalls loving the word game Boggle. In junior high she enjoyed learning new languages, and at Yale University took an introductory linguistics course. “When I took a history of English class with Professor Marie Borroff my sophomore year, I was hooked,” she says.
Curzan earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a doctorate in English language and literature at U-M in 1998 before joining the faculty. Now an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and recipient of the Henry Russel Award and the John Dewey Award, the former college athlete — who rises early most days to run five miles or swim two miles — was appointed this year as the university’s faculty athletics representative to the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Big Ten conference.
In addition to Michigan Radio, Curzan can be found talking about language in short videos on the LSA Wire, and in the column “Talking About Words” in Michigan Today.
The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Curzan, professor of English language and literature and professor of linguistics, LSA, and professor of education in the School of Education, on her linguistics radio show: "I’m trying to help people enjoy more, and worry and judge less."