Student Spotlight: Jarrett Hopewell

jarrett in video meeting with teachers

Image: Linguistics graduate student Jarrett Hopewell meets with Beth Keyser (English teacher in Superior, MT) and Beth Janney (Spanish teacher in Superior, MT) about the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO).

If linguistics graduate student Jarrett Hopewell had been asked before enrolling at the University of Montana where he saw himself in 10 years, his answer would have been very different than what it is now. While Hopewell originally chose UM for his undergraduate degree because of the wide diversity of languages offered in the College of Humanities and Sciences, he never realized that it could be a career path; that is, until he took his first course with linguistics professor Dr. Irene Appelbaum.

“The content of the course was very stimulating and almost came naturally to me,” Hopewell recalls. “I was already majoring in Latin and Ancient Greek, so I decided to get a minor in linguistics. After taking a few more linguistics classes, I was convinced that this field was where I wanted to continue.”

Hopewell completed his bachelor’s degree in classical languages and had the opportunity to learn some Greek on a study abroad trip led by Dr. Matthew Semanoff. “Because of my knowledge in Latin and Ancient Greek, I can understand the gist of some utterances in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. I also took a few semesters of German.”

Clearly, Hopewell has a knack for languages, but it’s not simply his skills and ability that have carried him through. He shares, “I fell in love with the linguistics program and knew that I wanted to continue as a graduate student working with the incredible faculty. They are not only working with Native American communities in language reclamation efforts, but they are also leaders in a generation of linguists that work together with these communities as a team. In this collaborative approach, the interests of both the researchers and the community members are equally prioritized in a balanced mission to learn, teach, and help communities reclaim their threatened languages.”

He continues, “The program is the perfect size, offering a minor, bachelor’s degree, and master’s degree, and we are continuing to grow. In the summer of 2020, we will be hosting the Institute of Collaborative Language Research, a biennial summer institute in field linguistics and language documentation for linguists, fieldworkers, students, members of Indigenous language communities and other individuals interested in community-based language work.”

For the past year and a half, Hopewell has been researching the temporal (time) system of Hopi, an indigenous language of Northeastern Arizona. He is currently working on his thesis that extends these analyses of the temporal interpretations of complex sentences in Hopi. Hopewell credits Dr. Leora Bar-el in his introduction to linguistic temporality in her class on Temporal Aspectual Systems.

“There was an immediate interest,” Hopewell says. “It’s a fascinating concept because we bend time whenever we speak, but we’re almost completely oblivious to how we do it. Several of my research projects investigate the nuances of the future time, namely how the future time tends to overlap with notions of potentiality and possibility. Dr. Leora Bar-el also aided in my introduction to the Hopi language in her class on North American Indigenous Languages and Linguistics. What started as a small class project on one of the tenses in Hopi has now grown into a thesis proposal and career path.”

After he graduates in Spring, 2020 with his master’s degree, Hopewell plans to complete a Ph.D. in language documentation with a goal of working with Indigenous communities and endangered languages. Hopewell is passionate about the preservation of the world’s languages and supporting the communities which are at risk of losing them. He also hopes to one day be a linguistics professor and educate students on the importance of languages.

Each week Hopewell gets hands-on experience and practice in being a linguistics educator. He puts on weekly webinar lessons with Beth Keyser, an English teacher in Superior, Montana, to help prepare her students for the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO), an international contest in which high school students solve linguistic puzzles. This program exposes the students to the scientific study of language in a fun and exciting manner, while preparing them for an annual competition.

These are all significant accomplishments for anyone, but even more so for Hopewell, as he was diagnosed with ADHD at eight years old. One of the greatest challenges Hopewell has struggled with is reading comprehension.

“Ironically, I chose a field that is almost exclusively reading and writing. I could read a whole book chapter word-for-word, yet not be able to tell you one thing that it says,” Hopewell explains. But he refuses to let his disability hold him back; he says it only makes his accomplishments that much more rewarding.

As for his time at UM’s College of Humanities and Sciences, Hopewell gives stellar reviews. He believes that the professors in this College make all the difference. He is also grateful to staff member Chuck Harris, director of the Social Science Research Laboratory, who has “helped me set up the technology needed for the NACLO lessons and has been a huge resource for other research technology.”

“It’s obvious how much the faculty and staff care about their students and profession.” Hopewell enthuses. “They take the time to really get to know their students, and they are leaders in their disciplines.” Being able to personally connect with all the professors in his program was especially important to Hopewell. He encourages everyone to take advantage of all that the Linguistics Program, and the College of Humanities and Sciences, has to offer.