Meet the Cluster Community: Tanja Kupisch

1. Why are you studying inequality?

Language is central to inequality research for several reasons: first, politicians can influence their voters through linguistic means. Second, people who do not speak the language of the majoritarian society or have an accent often experience discrimination and do not have equal opportunities for education and social advancement. And third, denying minorities the opportunity to learn their native language devalues their language and, by implication, their cultural heritage and identity.

2. What are you working on?

My work (in the cluster) is about the indigenous Sámi minority. We study how they keep their language alive after a long period of discrimination and (together with our colleagues from political science) how they themselves exercise their rights to language, land and self-determination in comparison to the majority society. In my other life, I am a Romance linguist and editor of a journal on multilingualism. Then there is my job in Tromsø, which is also about multilingualism.

3. How did you end up here?

I never had a plan to stay at the university. My entry into linguistics was through syntax. When I saw syntax trees for the first time, I suddenly felt like I understood language and wanted to know more. Shortly after that, I was a student assistant in a project on multilingualism. And then the years went by. Our cluster project started over a random coffee in the foyer of the University of Konstanz, when I was talking about Scandinavia with Katherina Holzinger. Suddenly we started thinking about the Sámi. At least that's how I remember it!

4. Recent highlight?

Train trip from Konstanz via Malmö to Tromsø in only 45 hours (Konstanz-Southern Sweden being only the first third). Ever since I heard about iron ore from Kiruna in my elementary school science class, I've been fascinated by the idea of Lapland. "Kiruna," by the way, comes from the North Sami word for snow goose.

5. Dream research project?

I could also do research on cats, weather or volcanoes. I've always been fascinated by that, too. Or learn Creole languages in a warm place and study how they are passed down.

Prof. Dr. Tanja Kupisch is a Professor of Romance Linguistics at the University of Konstanz as well as a Professor at UiT, The Arctic University of Norway. She is also a PI in the project “Ethnic Policies – Remedy for Between-Group Inequalities?" at the Cluster of Excellence "The Politics of Inequality" at the University of Konstanz. Her research interests include child and adult bilingualism and trilingualism as well as bidialectalism, and the links between language and policy.