Post image for Allison Brooke Yates

Allison Brooke Yates

April 10, 2014

In early April, Indiana University Bloomington celebrated the 2014 Founders Day Honors Convocation, an annual event honoring academic excellence among IU Bloomington students. More than 40 students received university awards for scholarship, leadership, and service. Among them were five students earning Provost’s Awards for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, including senior Allison Brooke Yates, who received the award for her project “Pragmatic Variation in Service Encounters in Argentine Spanish.”

Yates, a triple major in International Studies, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, and Spanish, began working on her award-winning project in spring 2012 with her faculty mentor, J. César Félix-Brasdefer, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. Félix-Brasdefer helped her plan a study to be carried out while Yates was studying abroad in Argentina.

A self-described linguistics lover, Yates explains that “pragmatics” is a branch of linguistics that “focuses on how language usage changes based on the sociocultural context, especially in relation to power structures.” For example, in Spanish and other languages, the use of formal and informal forms of “you” varies, depending on a variety of factors such as age, race, and gender. The form a speaker chooses indicates his or her status in comparison to the person being addressed. In Argentina, Yates studied “service encounters,” or exchanges between vendors and customers, in Argentinian kioscos, small corner stores that sell candy, cigarettes, drinks, and other minor items.

The ways that language use changes in different contexts fascinates Yates because, she says, the different usages reflect “forms of speaking to one another that are ingrained in our brains by those who teach us how to behave.” By tracking the changes, she says, you can track “how different social groups may subconsciously view the other.”

While in Argentina, Yates was able to record 13 hours of service encounter interactions. When she returned to the United States in summer 2013, she transcribed the recordings, coded the data, and wrote her thesis, which is aimed at demonstrating that in Argentine Spanish, as in the languages in other countries, “the pragmatic varies and depends on social factors. The relationship between customer and vendor in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world are different in each context.”

But linguistic research was not the only project Yates pursued while in Argentina. For her Spanish grammar class, she created “Argentina in Images”, a video that reflects on Yates’s participation in Nacional de Mujeres (“National Women’s Encounter”), which happens annually in Argentina. Yates took a 20-hour bus ride to attend the event in Posadas, Misiones, near the border with Brazil and Paraguay. Once there, she took part in workshops on reproductive rights and human trafficking.

“I chose to focus on this experience for my class project because of the incredible activism and effort of the women I was with. It impressed me a lot,” Yates says. “I learned so much about Argentina and feminist activism.”

Feminist activism, particularly in Latin America, is the focus of Yates’s International Studies major. She wrote her capstone thesis on feminist activism for reproductive rights in Argentina. In the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures area, she has focused on culture and society, especially gender in the Middle East.

Looking back on her four years at IU Bloomington, Yates says her overseas study experience “changed her life,” but close behind is her involvement as outreach coordinator for Movement Exchange at IU. Movement Exchange is an international nonprofit organization that promotes cross-cultural exchange and understanding through dance. Volunteer “dance diplomats” travel to other countries to engage and empower at-risk youth through teaching and performing dance as well as organize dance workshops and other community events locally.

Yates, a Zumba instructor for IU Bloomington’s Recreational Sports program, says Movement Exchange has affected her life in several significant ways.

“It introduced me to a group of ambitious and passionate students who became my best friends and mentors,” she says. “It also changed my career path (previously I had wanted to go into Foreign Service) and made me realize my dream of working with communities to create understanding and positive self-worth. And it changed my view of my capacity to inspire other people. Teaching a short dance routine or giving someone a high-five might not seem important, but it has the capability to plant a seed for future accomplishments.”

Yates is nearly done with her undergraduate degree at IU Bloomington, but she’s not leaving town just yet. She recently accepted a position as Fund Development Coordinator for Middle Way House, a local agency providing emergency and transitional shelter to women and children experiencing or recovering from domestic violence.

The remaining four Provost Award student winners are: Madeline Dinges, a junior majoring in Policy Analysis in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, for her project, “Fiscal Analysis for Lake County, Indiana”; Christian Rochford Hayes, a junior majoring in astronomy and physics in the College of Arts and Sciences, for his project, “Radial Velocities of Three Poorly Studied Clusters and the Kinematics of Open Clusters”; Thomas Michael Ladendorf, a senior majoring in Computer Science and History, for his project, “‘Champions of Ignorance’: The Persistence of Conservative Hostility to Education, 1700-1870”; and William Frederick Rowe, an undergraduate composition major in the IU Jacobs School of Music, for his projects, “Compositions ‘Secessionist Subjects’ and ‘The House on the Street’”.