• About me

    My research explores the many ways people work to understand each other in multilingual legal spaces.

    I see language as a force that shapes our personal and political lives, but also one that frequently becomes invisible. I believe uncovering the role of language in our life experiences is one way to talk about power, social inequality, and human resilience.

     

    I observe Immigration Courts, where people work together to secure respondents' linguistic comprehension of proceedings, and legal professionals' semantic comprehension of the interpretation for the respondent. Respondents in Immigration Court represent a great diversity of linguistic cultures, as do those who interpret for them, represent them, and review their cases. Such diversity is met with a variety of professional training, experience, and perspectives on language, all under the pressure of limited time and resources.

     

    Cross-linguistic courtroom communication is complicated and difficult work, but it is also crucial. For many individuals in immigration proceedings, linguistic comprehension of courtroom talk is a matter of life and death. Despite the efforts of many, the legal ideal of an invisible language barrier does not always manifest. My research investigates how interpreters and legal professionals apply varying strategies to achieve understanding. These strategies cross conventional notions of power and professionalism, as well as varying beliefs about what linguistic comprehension looks and sounds like.

     

    While my ethnographic research focuses on language access rights and Immigration Courts, my broader theoretical interests include language ideologies, linguistic labor, and political economy under neoliberalism.

     

    Research is generously funded by the National Science Foundation Program in Law and Social Sciences, the Social Science Research Council, the UC Consortium on Social Science and the Law, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

  • Education

    University of California, Los Angeles

    2013- Present

    Dissertation Title: The Effects of Lesser Spoken Language Access in Immigration Courts

     

    Dissertation Committee:
    Paul Kroskrity, Department of Anthropology
    Norma Mendoza-Denton, Department of Anthropology
    Jessica Cattelino, Department of Anthropology
    Ingrid Eagly, UCLA Law School

     

     

    Fellowships and Grants

    National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant,

    Law and Social Sciences Program

     

    UC Consortium on Social Science and the Law Summer Fellowship

     

    Graduate Research Mentorship Fellowship, UCLA

     

    UCLA Edward A. Bouchet Honors Society

     

    UCLA Department of Anthropology Student Research


    Graduate Summer Research Mentorship Award, UCLA


    UCLA Department of Anthropology Student Research Grant


    SSRC-Mellon Mays Dissertation Enhancement Grant

     

    Graduate Summer Research Mentorship, UCLA

     

    SSRC-Mellon Mays Pre-Doctoral Research Development Grant


    Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for Outstanding Honors Study, Finalist, Connecticut College


    Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship

  • consulting

    Improving communication across languages in public service doesn't just protect the rights of the vulnerable; it also makes everyone's work easier. Assessing your office or organization's language access practices through empirical research will inform better practices and create positive outcomes.

    Be effective...

    Communicating across language barriers can be a unique challenge that slows works and halts progress. Better communication and language access practices result in higher efficiency.

    Be inclusive...

    Language differences can be isolating. Becoming trained on how to be fully inclusive to clients and colleagues alike creates a hospitable and safe work environment for clients and colleagues alike.

    For companies

    Invite me to teach a workshop at your corporate or nonprofit offices. With instruction, discussion, and practice, train your entire team to be effective and inclusive in cross-cultural communications.

    For individuals

    In a one-on-one setting, I will help you with best practices for communicating effectively across languages using empirical research, tested materials, and tools for understanding.

  • Let's discuss.

    Inquire below for more information on private linguistic consultation, group training, and workshops.

  • teaching

    Teaching Philosophy

    Individual life experiences with language are equally important to my teaching as to my research. In my years teaching, I have observed that students are quick to recognize instances of linguistic inequality in their lives and in the lives of those who are close to them. I have designed coursework to leverage these insights, prompting students to design original ethnographic interviews to create language biographies of individuals in their lives. While constructing analytic arguments about original, students engage in the social histories that shaped their subject's linguistic life history.

     

    My approach to teaching linguistic anthropology is to pedagogically anchor instruction about language in lessons of social inequality. Group class discussions locate the role of language within ethnographically concrete instances of familiar social inequalities. At the same time, lectures center on of the impact of social hierarchy on linguistic practice and structure itself. In this way, the same ethnographic examples introduce abstract concepts about the structure of language and interaction. The approach bridges a common curricular gap between linguistic and socio-cultural anthropology, as well as making connections across disciplines. Altogether, my course design focuses on revealing the connections between the fine mechanics of language to socio-political realities on a global scale.

    Teaching Experience

    UCLA Department of Anthropology, Lecturer Summer 2016

    Culture and Communication


    Undergraduate Research Center, Graduate Mentor Summer 2016

    Mellon Mays Undergraduate Intensive Writing and Research Training Program


    UCLA Department of Anthropology, Teaching Associate Fall 2015- Spring 2016

    Language and Culture
    Culture in Society
    Culture and Communication

     

    UCLA Department of Anthropology, Teaching Assistant Fall 2014- Spring 2015

    Culture and Communication
    Human Evolution
    Culture and Communication

     

    UCLA Department of Anthropology, Reader Fall 2014- Summer 2015

    Culture and Communication
    Language in Culture
    Citizenship and Migration

  • Contact

    I interview a variety of language and legal professionals about their experiences with language, and I'd like to hear your story.

    sonyarao@ucla.edu