Faculty Profile! Dr. Sung Park-Johnson, Ph.D.

Park-Johnson

Dr. Sung Park-Johnson, Professional Assistant Instructor, Bilingual-Bicultural Education, Director of Bilingual and ESL Minors

Sung Park-Johnson Ph.D. is a Professional Assistant Instructor of Bilingual-Bicultural Education and the Director of Bilingual and ESL Minors in the Department of Leadership, Language and Education. Dr. Park-Johnson received her B.A. in Linguistics and Spanish from the University of Michigan, and both her Ph.D. and M.A. in Linguistics at Purdue University. She is also an alumni member of the Purdue Indigenous and Endangered Languages Lab and an affiliate member of the UIC bilingualism lab.

Her research areas include the development of language by bilingual children with a special emphasis on how these bilingual speakers’ grammars affect one another. Along with her research, Dr. Park-Johnson is interested in the characteristics of heritage languages and the development and attrition these languages undergo throughout childhood and adolescence. She feels as though her research and professional interests enormously inform her teaching. Says Park- Johnson “These populations that I work with in my research are exactly the population that my students will be working with in bilingual, ESL, and world language classrooms.” She explains that heritage language learners are very common in the United States. They consist of children who start out as dominant in their home language, enter school and become English-dominant because of the heavy influence of English in their environment. In drastic cases, these students lose the ability to communicate with their families in their native tongue, but in most cases they become English-dominant with some varying degree of proficiency in their home language.

Dr. Park-Johnson says, “these heritage language speakers often feel like they are ‘bad bilinguals’ because they are somehow unbalanced in their languages, when the fact of the matter is, they actually know more than they think they do.” She is interested in what components of language these speakers do have because it gives them back some of their identity, and, from a linguistic standpoint, it gives an idea of how resilient certain components of language are. Outside of teaching, Dr. Park-Johnson is working on several projects including the longitudinal study of Korean-English bilingual children ages 3 to 7.

She is investigating their use of code-switching over time to see whether the amount that they code-switch changes as they go from being Korean-dominant to English dominant, which usually happens when they are starting school. Another project of interest is a cross-sectional study conducted with adult Korean heritage speakers who were once Korean-dominant. This is to see whether they have any sensitivity to a verbal marker that is found in Korean but not in English, “My goal is to see whether these adults in their 20s and 30s can still tell the difference between a sentence with and without this tiny verbal marker. So far, the results show they can.” Dr. Park-Johnson has studied many languages including Latin, Italian, American Sign Language, and has rudimentary skills in Cantonese, and Swa Taw We (a minority language spoken in Southeast China). “I love learning languages, especially grammar, because it just makes sense and is so systematic and brilliant.” She is also fluent in English and Korean, and has fairly good control of Spanish.

She believes learning a new language is akin to a child eating candy for breakfast, “Language exists in nature like any plant or animal species, but it’s one we get to use, manipulate, play, and create with.” When Dr. Park-Johnson is away from class and not busy with research, she likes to spend time with her husband and daughter. She also loves to run and knit, though not at the same time.

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