Saluki Pride: For Karen Baertsch, collaboration is key in any language

Karen Baertsch came to SIU Carbondale nearly two decades ago after first attending a conference on campus. That Baertsch enjoys working with faculty and students is evident, according to Shannon McCrocklin, an assistant professor in the linguistics department. In Baertsch’s year as department chair, McCrocklin notes Baertsch’s supportive demeanor and a change in the environment with a goal of “working toward productive solutions to problems.”

Get to know Karen Baertsch

Name: Karen Baertsch

Department/title: Linguistics / associate professor and interim chair

Years at SIU Carbondale: 18 years

Give us the elevator pitch for your job

I’m a phonologist primarily – I research the sound systems that languages use to form words and try to explain why some combinations will work in one language but not in another. Like in English, we can begin a word with str- (strike in baseball) but in Japanese, there would have to be a vowel between each of those sounds (suturaiku). What I study is important for things like text-to-speech and speech-to-text applications, it helps us as humans figure out where words start and end in speech when we hear it, we pay attention to it when we create new words (like for new products), and it’s fun! I also study how languages have changed over time and how people learn languages. And knowing how people learn languages helps us teach languages to others and learn them ourselves. Some of the classes I teach are phonetics (learn how to make and use different sounds), phonology (how those sounds combine to make words in different languages), and historical linguistics (how languages change over time).

What is the favorite part of your job?

The people. I like working with the students and with the other faculty in the department. It  creates a really pleasant learning and working environment. I became interim chair in the department last year and watching the department come together as a unit has been incredibly rewarding. We can accomplish so much together that can’t be done individually.

Why did you choose SIU?

I came to SIU for a conference a couple of years before this job came open and quite liked it, so I was interested as soon as I saw the ad. I like that SIU has so many first generation students who wouldn’t have had a chance to go to college a couple of generations ago and that it is located in a relatively small city.

If I had one wish it would be … and why.

Short term, I’d like to be rid of COVID. It’s causing a lot of stress. Long term, I’d like to see more support for education from both the government and the surrounding communities so students could focus more on learning.

Winter, Summer, Spring or Fall … which one and why.

Winter. I like to be outside but I’m not a fan of the heat. In winter, the temperature is just right and the occasional snowfall is fun to watch.

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