Meet Our Students: Percival Devereaux

Photo of Percival Devereaux
1. Where are you from?
I’m from Paducah, KY.
2. What is your major and year?
I’m a senior with a major in linguistics, a minor in German studies, and a certificate in international film.
3. Why did you come to UK?
I was originally in computer science, and came to UK for the engineering program and the resources and funding the university offered me, but when I switched to linguistics I was lucky to find how great the department is here. I’m pretty sure it’s the only university in Kentucky that offers a BA in linguistics as opposed to only a BS, which synergized well with my minor and certificate.
4. Do you have any hobbies/interests you want to mention?
Apart from the obvious interest in language and the branches that leads into, I’m a big fan of D&D and dabble a bit in film and media analysis and cosmetic chemistry.
5. How did you get interested in linguistics?
To be honest, I kind of just fell into it. Like I said I started out as a computer science major, but I couldn’t make calculus click in any meaningful way that I could understand. This may be a bit of a cliché in this major, but I’ve always had an interest in words and language use, but didn’t particularly want to major in something like English, so here I am. It took going through the introductory courses to realize just how complex and interesting the subject is because I didn’t really know much of anything about it beforehand, and I’m really glad for a lot of reasons that I chose linguistics.
6. What has been your favorite (or most memorable) linguistics course and why?
I suppose I would have to say LIN 310 American English was the most memorable. It was one of the first courses I took in linguistics and definitely the first place I wasn’t judged negatively for speaking with southern dialect features. It made me a lot more comfortable with the code switching I do naturally and a lot less obsessed with speaking “perfectly” or “correctly.”
7. What is one course someone considering a linguistics track should take?
I have to endorse LIN 310 American English again. It’s a good introduction to dialect variation across regions and social groups, and it’s not so intimidating or difficult as to scare off anyone who’s undecided about pursuing linguistics. For upper-level courses, I think LIN 508 Discourse Analysis is good for anyone who wants to understand the structures of conversation and communication across different levels of society, and really explores more of the pragmatic side of things that a lot of other linguistics courses don’t get into.
8. What do you want others to know about linguistics and/or why they should study it?
Language is one of the few universals of human experience and connection, and learning more about linguistics can benefit anyone in any major or career path. Knowing how language works, what you can do with it, and the many varied ways of speaking that each person is capable of makes you more effective at communicating with everyone in every area of your life.
9. What are your research interests?
Really I’m interested in anything I have the opportunity to get my hands on, and I wish I could take more time to diversify the linguistics courses I take before I graduate. That said, I'd have to say my main research interests are language and gender, regional variation (mostly from my work with Dr. Burkette on the Linguistic Atlas Project, and my work this semester with Dr. Cramer on perceptual dialectology maps concerning Appalachia), and the integration of computational and sociolinguistic methods.
10. You are currently working under Dr. Jennifer Cramer on an independent study, what can you tell us about that?
My research project concerns how cisgender men linguistically index gender identity and gender presentation when playing characters in tabletop roleplaying games. I did a pilot study of this topic previously in a sociolinguistics course, but this time I’m hoping to publish my findings. Given the somewhat limited scope of the current research, I can’t broaden the question any more, but I’d love to work on a larger project that includes cisgender women and transgender and non-binary people and characters in the data.
TRPGs are the perfect place to research linguistic performativity, even more so than stage and screen acting because players inhabit the role of their characters 2-4 times a month, for multiple hours per game session, for months or even years at a time. The identity of the character grows and changes as the story progresses, and as that happens the way players index identity can change as well. It’s a sorely untapped resource for work on performativity and gender that I hope more people start considering as such.
11. You had previously been involved with the Linguistic Atlas Project for a few semesters, how and why did you get involved with the LAP?
Dr. Burkette visited LIN 310 when I was taking it to talk about the Atlas and the work she was doing there. Part of the guest lecture was a sample page of IPA transcriptions for us to try, and I found that I was both good at it and enjoyed doing it. At the end Dr. Burkette mentioned that she was hiring so I put in my application very soon after. I very much enjoyed my time there and am glad I got to be part of such a big project in the field.
12. What are you hoping to do in the future?
I’m considering taking a gap year of sorts to do a Fulbright program in Germany before going to grad school, and want to do a dual master’s or PhD in computational linguistics and German. The hope from there is a career in machine translation, but I’d like to maintain research interests in language and gender “on the side,” so to speak.
It’s a touch unrealistic considering the likely very low demand for it, but I’d love to work with Wizards of the Coast to expand the language system for D&D. Right now they’re little more than a category of proficiencies on a character sheet and rarely see much use in play at a lot of tables. A set of immersive, linguist-created languages could do a lot to expand the lore of the game universe and add another layer to the experience at the table.
13. Anything else you want to add?
Just that I’m very thankful for all of the professors in the linguistics department and the opportunities I’ve had to learn from and work with all of them.