Derek Denis

Derek Denis
Tuesday, October 9, 2018 - 7:35am

POSITION: Assistant Professor, Tenure Stream

ACADEMIC UNIT: Language Studies

PLACE OF BIRTH: Toronto, ON

JOINED UTM FACULTY: 2017

“There has been a lot of work on old-line Toronto English, but not much on the effects of multiculturalism and multilingualism.”

Derek Denis, a native of Scarborough and graduate of the University of Toronto, left Ontario for a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Victoria, but he’s happy to be back in his home province.

“I never thought I would be able to come back, given the job market, but I’m very happy to be at UTM,” Denis says. “It’s great to be home, and working at UTM gives me a little distance from where I did my graduate work, so it’s the best of both worlds.”

Denis’ research focus is on language variation and change.

“I look at how language develops over time and consider both the linguistic and social factors that contribute to that change,” he says.

Most of his current research has centred on Canadian English; one of his previous studies examined that most stereotypical of Canadian words, “eh,” and its development over time. However, he is moving into a new area of study – the future of Canadian English.

“There has been a lot of work done on old-line Toronto English, but not much on the effects of multiculturalism and multilingualism in Toronto,” Denis says. He is particularly interested in “multi-ethnolects” – that is, the variety of dialects spoken where there is mass ethnic and linguistic diversity in a single area, something he expects to be common in a city of immigrants. In certain neighbourhoods, parents are less likely to be native English speakers, so children “rely on their peers to learn the language.”

Denis wants to discover if these dialects exist in Toronto and, if so, where they are spoken and what features they have. He and some students in a Research Opportunities Program are conducting fieldwork among Brampton adolescents, most of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants.

“We have compiled a list of specific words to analyze the vowel sounds of the dialects and we have recorded casual interviews to get natural, vernacular speech. This is our basic data.”

UTM students, he notes, “are keen and excited to learn. They contribute just as much as I do to making the class a fun experience.”

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