While experimental linguistics attracted Jenn-Shann Lin (PhD ’79) to the U of A, community has kept him on campus for almost four decades.
Born and raised in Taiwan, Lin came to Canada to complete his PhD in linguistics in 1973. At the time, the Department of Linguistics (which then belonged to the Faculty of Science) was known for its experimental linguistics, a branch of the field that uses quantitative data to evaluate linguistic theories. Trained in descriptive linguistics, which takes an empirical approach to the study of language, Lin wanted to approach the field from new angles. “I wanted to try something different,” he says.
After finishing his PhD in ’79, he became one of only two professors in the department and taught both language and literature classes. “That got me interested in the analysis of fiction,” says Lin. He was especially interested in Taiwanese literature, which was virtually unknown in Canada at the time, and narratology, the study of narrative structures within fiction. Over time, Lin switched his research focus exclusively to narratology, applying it mainly to Taiwanese short stories.
He also joined what was then called the East Asian Languages and Literature Program. As interdisciplinary research became more popular in the early ‘70s, the program changed its name to East Asian Studies in order to include scholarly work in history, anthropology, economics and other fields. It also evolved into a department and Lin was one of its founding members.
“I had opportunities to go somewhere else, but I felt that this is the place I love.”
“I think the change reflected the needs of society and (the emergence of) globalization,” he says. “It helped students by cultivating their abilities to deal with all sorts of needs in society, rather than purely language or literature.”
Since then, Lin has had a successful career within the department, both as an academic and administrator. He has held many positions of leadership over the years and currently serves as Associate Chair (Undergraduate) in the department.
Lin has also shared his research all over the world. He was invited to be a visiting professor at the University of California (Santa Barbara) in 2000 and the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan in 2001.
In June 2014, Lin will retire after nearly four decades at the U of A. He says the decision to remain on campus for his entire career was an easy one: “In a way, the U of A has mothered me since 1973, when I came here to do my PhD.” On top of the many opportunities that opened up for him, Lin developed a deep connection with the campus community. “I felt that this was a place where I belonged – almost like a home,” he says. “My colleagues and students have been almost like a family. I had opportunities to go somewhere else, but I felt that this is the place I love.”
Jenn-Shann Lin’s U of A webpage: