Graduate student Felicia Bisnath was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, where she completed most of her schooling and became a first generation college student. During high school and as an undergrad at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Felicia was interested in the natural sciences but eventually she discovered her true passion lay in Linguistics. Felicia obtained a Linguistics B.A. from her undergrad institution and was also able to conduct research on Creole languages. Her educational journey continued to unfold, eventually leading her to the University of Amsterdam for an M.A. in Sign Language Linguistics. During a gap year following her M.A., Felicia spent time applying to PhD programs and served as a part-time lecturer in Sign Language Linguistics at her alma mater.
Felicia's discovery of linguistics was sparked by a chance encounter with someone who had pursued an undergraduate degree in the field. When pursuing a B.A. in Linguistics, she coupled her major with a minor in Speech and Language Pathology to enhance employability. However, Felicia became certain that she did not want to become a speech therapist, and instead wanted to continue learning more about Linguistics, specifically Sign Language Linguistics. Graduate school became a natural next step, providing Felicia with the autonomy to explore her interests within a supportive academic environment. In Felicia’s own words, “the diversity of linguistics is what is attractive to me as it’s possible to think about different forms of a single thing, language, from a multiplicity of perspectives”. So far, Felicia finds that graduate school has provided her with a perfect blend of guidance and flexibility that allow her to explore her interests.
Felicia became interested in U-M Linguistics due to its interdisciplinary offerings. U-M stood out as one of the few graduate programs in the United States with expertise in language contact, Creoles, and sign languages—an essential blend for Felicia's research program. In addition, Felicia chose U-M Linguistics because the department had the resources and people she needed to support her research and due to the presence of an established graduate student union at the university.
Felicia's research centers on language contact, typology, ideology, and social cognition, with a particular emphasis on signed languages. More specifically, she investigates contact typology and ideology in signed languages, and interrogates sociolinguistic typology and morphological complexity in signed languages using lenses from Creole linguistics. Her dissertation explores language ideologies surrounding mouthing in American Sign Language (ASL) and their correlation with visual perception. Felicia adds, “I’m excited about my dissertation work because of its cultural relevance to deaf Americans, and the foundation it will set for connecting different kinds of deaf life experiences to processing. Two themes underlying my research are moving against exceptionalities in linguistics, and, relatedly, thinking about how to learn from other subfields while minimizing stereotyping”. Savi Namboodiripad is Felicia’s primary advisor.
Felicia's academic career is filled with noteworthy accomplishments, including the acceptance of a single-author paper based on her Qualitative Research Project (QRP) in the Journal of Language Contact. Additionally, she received the NWAV50 Student Travel Award and the Rackham 2023-2024 Predoctoral Fellowship, showcasing her commitment to scholarly excellence.
Beyond linguistics, Felicia finds joy in attending concerts, indulging in indie pop/rock and R&B. Her love for travel aligns with her interest in photography, often chronicled on Instagram. Culinary adventures, encompassing cooking and baking projects where she experiments with new ingredients, add a flavourful dimension to her interests. When she has more time on hand, Felicia enjoys reading fiction, specifically literary realism, magical realism, speculative fiction, sci-fi, and Caribbean literature.
Felicia's future plans involve entering the job market, where she envisions herself designing and conducting language or human behavior research in academia or the industry, all while harboring dreams of adopting a cat or two.