A 'fresh' perspective on linguistics

For Bryer Oden, a summer research scholarship was a chance for her to explore further her love of linguistics and prepare for her Master’s programme.

A still from Bryer's video
A still from Bryer's video

Now a Master of Arts student, Bryer was chosen to work alongside Professor Meredith Marra from the University’s School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies and the Language in the Workplace Project (LWP) research team.  Her project studied humour, biases, and group norms in the workplace and looked at the role of humour in negotiating identities between newcomers and in-group members.

“Over the summer Bryer identified evidence of humour and group bias in interactions from our existing data set of recordings. In parallel with Bryer’s project, the LWP team was fulfilling an external contract identifying unconscious bias. Together this work contributed to a plenary presentation in Australia in February on laughter and belonging,” explains Professor Marra.

Learning more about the intricacies and impact of humour led Bryer to present her research in a video rap inspired by the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, a decision which set her Summer Gold submission apart and won her Best Overall Video in the Summer Gold Awards. The Summer Gold Awards are given to students who complete a Summer Research Scholarship project and then enter either a poster or a video on their work into the Summer Gold Competition.

“My video presented me as a 90s teenage rapper—even when in reality, I am the furthest thing from rapper material imaginable,” Bryer says. “Transforming a rap song into an academic presentation was funny because it is totally incongruous, which fits with the definitions of humour that I had been researching. Humour is also used to create friendships and positive relationships, and I wanted to establish this kind of relationship with those watching my video!”

Bryer’s summer scholar experience was invaluable. “It was the greatest academic opportunity I’ve had to date and incredibly fulfilling and motivating.

“I enjoyed the freedom of being able to do research without too many restrictions. Within the research scholarship, I felt like I was free to explore and be more creative. I also really enjoyed having an office. I have never felt so certain that I am in the right place!”

Professor Marra and the LWP team enjoy having the extra energy and enthusiasm of a new team member each summer. “It helps move our thinking forward, keeps us engaged and on track, and offers insights that we might not come to without an outside perspective. In return we have enjoyed seeing summer scholars like Bryer develop new skills, gain confidence in their abilities, and have their passion for discourse analytic work come alive,” Professor Marra says.

“After working with Bryer our interest is reignited. Since her scholarship, it has been announced that the next Australasian Humour Scholars Network Colloquium will be held in Wellington in February 2021. We hope that she will present her summer research at this conference so others can see her entertaining and insightful analysis in action.”