By Erin Huggins
This fall, Cornelia Paraskevas, professor of linguistics and writing, spent a week and a half in Germany’s centrally located state, Hessen. She was invited to present at an alumni workshop on language, culture and literacy at the University of Kassel, in cooperation with the German Academic Exchange Service and the Federal Foreign Office of Germany. Her husband, Professor of Communication Studies Frank Nevius, was also invited. Western Edge caught up with her during office hours to chat about her time in the city of Kassel.
How does this topic relate to your personal linguistic research or areas of specialty?
I don’t work a lot with academic writing specifically, but I’ve worked a lot, especially with the Honors Program, on literacy. Understanding academic writing is part of that discourse. I’ve been interested in how teachers in K-12 talk about language and conventions and fluency to students, and part of what I’ve done a bit of work on is understanding syntactic complexity and what that really means, connecting that with authentic texts and genre studies. Academic writing is part of a larger issue, primarily of understanding the syntactic features of academic writing.
What did you take away from this workshop?
First of all, I connected with a lot of people. For example, there was a woman from Ireland; she’s doing her dissertation and asked me for feedback. There was also a person from Catalonia; he does a lot of research on the internationalization of campuses, so we exchanged ideas and he shared a survey that could be very useful for Western.
How did this workshop relate to your last two sabbaticals, also spent in Germany?
My past two sabbaticals I taught in Germany at the University of Kassel in the linguistics department. During my third sabbatical last year, I reconnected with Claudia Finkbeiner. I had met her one year when she came over to WOU. She does a lot of applied linguistics and asked me to go and talk to her doctoral students about academic writing. My last sabbatical, I also spent a week in Ludwigsburg at the university there, teaching a one-week, 40-hour course on the history of the English language to prospective high school teachers.
What other interactions have you had with students in Germany?
A student of [Finkbeiner’s] had been an exchange student at WOU. She was excited when she found out I was coming to Kassel and was taking all my classes there. The students seem to enjoy the more casual interaction with American faculty [as compared to German faculty]. My first time there in 2003, a lot of them wanted to work on spoken English. They wanted to improve their English, so I did sort of a Stammtisch at one of the coffee shops on campus, where we would casually talk—in English—about anything and everything.
Do you speak German?
The bare minimum. I’m much better at reading it.
How many languages do you speak?
Just three: French, English, and my own, Greek.
You’re Greek—and live in America—where does the connection to Germany come from?
I went and asked Michele Price, the Study Abroad director, where we had partner schools and found out we had a former faculty member, who had established that connection [in Kassel]. When I emailed them, they were very happy because their linguistics department is quite small, and they were very interested in having someone from the U.S. who could do more general linguistics. During WWII, Greece suffered a lot from German occupation, so the generation is still alive that has hard feelings [toward Germany]. It’s interesting how within one generation, I don’t have any hard feelings—I really enjoy being in Germany. To me it was a revelation to think, “I like being here.” It’s shocking for people when I tell them that.
What are your favorite things about Kassel?
There is amazing public transportation and amazing walking downtown. Being there gives me a different sense of what life can be. The city is really nice and organized—things work. There are amazing parks and hiking trails. And the people are very welcoming in Kassel. Since my German is not good, but their English is really good, I never have trouble.