Mela

MelaMela Sarkar was born in Calcutta, India, to a transplanted Ukrainian-Canadian farm girl and a Bangladeshi Brahmin who had met as grad students at the University of Manitoba in 1953. They wound up settling in Toronto, where she grew up. Issues of heritage versus dominant languages, plurilingualism/pluriculturalism, and hybrid identities were therefore inevitably woven into the fabric of everyday normal for her. She has never gotten over the frustration of not being able to understand when her parents spoke Ukrainian and Bengali to their friends and relations, and has been trying to one-up them linguistically ever since. Moving to Montreal and raising two French-English bilingual children in a relationship with a pure laine Québécois de souche was one way of trying to deal with that frustration, on a personal level. Professionally, she wandered around, living in Montreal, Paris, Nanjing and Toronto as a student, while on the way to collecting degrees from McGill (B.A. East Asian Studies, 1982) and Concordia (M.A. 1993, Ph.D. 2000). Her training in second language acquisition at Concordia under Patsy Lightbown not only gave her a solid grounding in quantitative methodology (which after her doctoral dissertation she never used again) but also provided a model of unparalleled doctoral supervision that she will be striving to live up to for the rest of her career. Since taking up her current position at McGill’s Department of Integrated Studies in Education in 2001, she has branched out from SLA into sociolinguistic inquiry, with a focus on empowering minority-language speakers through diversification of their communicative repertoires. Mela has researched and published on Bangladeshi and other allophone preschoolers learning French at Maternelle, intercultural policy in Montreal schools (with Shaheen Shariff and Michelle Hartmann), the language of multilingual Montreal Hip-Hop (with Bronwen Low and Lise Winer, on a FQRSC/SSHRC-funded project) and Mi’gmaq teaching at Listuguj First Nation (where her main research partners are McGill Ph.D. student / Listuguj band member Janine Metallic, community-based teacher-researchers Mary Ann Metallic and Janice Vicaire, and Listuguj Director of Education Gail Metallic, as well as four academic co-applicants on a SSHRC Insight grant). Her work has appeared in the Annual Review of Language Acquisition, the Canadian Journal of Native Education, the Canadian Modern Language Review, Diversité Urbaine, Grenzgänge: Beiträge zu einer modernen Romanistik, the International Journal of Multilingualism, the Journal of Language, Identity and Education, the Journal of Sociolinguistics, Kinéphanos, Language Awareness, Language, Culture and Curriculum, and Québec Français, as well as in over a dozen edited volumes or proceedings. Since 1989 she has taught thirty courses at every level from first-year undergrad to advanced doctoral seminars, presented at over fifty conferences and applied for far more grants than she has gotten. She has also worked with 65 M.A. or Ph.D. students in a supervisory or advisory committee capacity and has been immeasurably enriched thereby. In her spare time, when not volunteering on the board of Montreal’s South Asian Women’s Community Centre, she knits for her grandchildren (three at last count). They will be multi- and plurilingual, or she will know the reason why.

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