World-renowned sociolinguist Shana Poplack studies language as it is spoken, especially in bilingual and minority language contexts in Canada. With her unique data banks of natural speech, she uses novel analytical methods to trace the evolution of speech varieties within their social, historical, and linguistic contexts.
Insights from Shana Poplack's studies of spoken Canadian French, Canadian English, African American vernaculars, New World Spanish, and the language of urban immigrant communities have challenged received wisdom about the quality of these languages. She demonstrated that alternating between languages in bilingual discourse is a skill, not a defect, and that borrowing vocabulary does not disrupt the grammatical structure of the recipient language. She showed that Black English (in Nova Scotia, for instance) is neither incorrect nor a creole, but an offshoot of Early Modern English that resisted mainstream linguistic change. She debunked the purist idea that natural internal grammatical developments in Canadian French are "corruptions" imposed by contact with English.
Shana Poplack studied in France and the United States, earning her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, before joining the University of Ottawa in 1981. She has had an unbroken string of Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada research grants, enabling her to maintain her world-acclaimed Sociolinguistics Laboratory. A prolific and highly respected scholar, she has published a long series of influential papers and books, e.g., African American English in the Diaspora (2001), and is a perennial keynote speaker at linguistics and language conferences worldwide.
She is Canada Research Chair in Linguistics and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Ottawa, a Killam Research Fellow (2001), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and a recipient of the Society's Chauveau Medal (2005). Shana Poplack was nominated a Trudeau Fellow in 2007; she received the Killam Prize in the Humanities in 2007, and the 2008 premier's Discovery Award in the Social Sciences and Humanities. She was named Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America in 2009, won the National Achievement Award of the Canadian Linguistics Association in 2011, and was the 2012 recipient of the SSHRC Gold Medal for Achievement in Research. In 2014 she was named to the Order of Canada.