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Tyler Peterson, English’s newest assistant professor in linguistics and applied linguistics, is originally from the remote town of Smithers, British Columbia. But, he says, home for him is Arizona because that’s where he lives now and where he plans on living for a long time. "You have to learn to have a very flexible and inclusive idea of what 'home' is," he explains.
Peterson does feel right at home in the Department of English, and he loves the people. “Everyone in the department is very curious and supportive of everything I do,” he says, admitting that his field is a little “outside” of what a typical English professor does.
After earning his PhD at the University of British Columbia, Peterson accepted a post-doc at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He then worked at University of Toronto, University of Arizona, and Auckland University. His specialization is semantics—how meaning is expressed through language. Peterson loves teaching semantics and showing students how language can be studied scientifically. He is currently working on a book on the topic of mirativity, which is the term for how language expresses meaning to reveal the surprise of the speaker.
The main focus of Peterson's work is in endangered indigenous languages and language documentation: "I work closely with several tribal communities both in Canada and around Arizona," he explains, "training community language activists in the techniques of language documentation, maintenance, and revitalization."
His current research projects are taking him to people and places like the San Carlos Apache tribe just east of Phoenix; a tribe in northern Canada with whom he has been working for the past 15 years; and the tiny Pacific Island nation of the Cook Islands where Māori is spoken.
In addition to English, Peterson speaks Swedish (his parents’ native tongue) and bits of the indigenous languages of the tribes he studies. He loves to travel and has been to many amazing places, but doesn’t have a favorite destination. He admits that would be like trying to name your favorite song when you love music so much.
To help keep himself in balance in the often challenging life of an academic, Peterson likes to ride his motorcycle around in the desert. He also does volunteer work because he wants to do his part to make the world a better place.
Surprisingly, Peterson never planned on becoming a professor. He had a completely different career in the music business before entering the world of academia later in his life.
"This shows that you never can know what twists and turns you'll find in life," he observes, "and that it's never too late to take a chance and follow your passions."
Image: Photo of Tyler Peterson by Deanna Dent/ASU Now.