Faculty Biography

Fern Johnson

Fern Johnson

Professor Emerita and Research Professor

Department of English
Clark University
Worcester, MA 01610-1477

phone: 508-793-7151
email: fjohnson@clarku.edu



B.A. University of Minnesota, 1968
M.A. Northwestern University, 1969
Ph.D. University of Minnesota, 1974

Brief Biography

Interracial Adoption

Dr. Johnson’s expertise is in the study of language and culture in the U.S. Her work over the years examines gender, race, and ethnicity as manifested in language practices and discourse. Recent work focuses on bilingual education policy in the United States and the European Union, as well as on the language of advertising and its role in circulating norms and values. In addition to numerous articles, she is the author of Speaking Culturally: Language Diversity in the United States (Sage) and Imaging in Advertising—Verbal and Visual Codes of Commerce (Routledge). She is co-author with Marlene Fine of The Interracial Adoption Option: Creating a Family Across Race (Jessica Kingsley) and Let’s Talk Race: A Guide for White People (New Society Publishers).

Current Research and Teaching

Imaging in AdvertisingAs a scholar specializing in the study of race, ethnicity, and gender in discourse, I pay attention to many aspects of language in everyday life. Conversations, public speeches, advertising, television programs, and news reports all contain complex cultural discourse codes.  I am especially interested in the role of discourse in shaping ideology and notions of "reality." Everyday discourse--drawn from sources such as conversation, ads from magazines and the Internet, billboards, television programs, political speeches, and news stories--find their way into both my scholarship and my teaching. Teaching and my interaction with students play key roles in developing projects that I pursue. I build many ideas with students, probe new directions while developing course materials, and enjoy exploring ideas with students engaged in projects and theses. The core ideas in Imaging in Advertising, began with class lectures and discussion and then progressed as I worked with students to develop their projects. Teaching is for me inseparable from scholarship, and students--undergraduate and graduate alike--constitute a significant part of my intellectual community.

Speaking CulturallyI teach a range of courses that explore issues of language, identity, and culture. At the first-year level, I offer "American Talk" (Eng 114). My signature undergraduate course is "Language and Culture in the U.S." (Eng 215), which is a tour of the complexity of ancestry, languages, and cultural hybridity. I teach mid-level seminars on "Cultural Discourses of Advertising" (Eng 252), which uses various types of sociolinguistic analysis to understand the role of advertising in circulating cultural codes of meaning; and "Language at Issue" (Eng 257/357), which looks at language policy debates. My advanced research seminar on "Gender and Discourse" (Eng 295/395) is devoted to exploring a range of theories and research methodologies that are brought to bear on questions related to the entanglements of gender and discourse in complex cultural contexts. Many of my offerings are cross-listed with the Communication and Culture Program, and I also participate in the Women's Studies Program.

Selected Publications

2013: The Interracial Adoption Option: Creating a Family Across Race. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

2007: Imaging in Advertising: Verbal and Visual Codes of Commerce. New York: Routledge.

2006: Section Editor, SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication, B. J. Dow & J. T. Wood (Eds.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Introductory essay, "Culture as Con-text for Gender and Communication" (pp.371-378) for section focused on Gender and Communication in Intercultural and Global Contexts.

2006: "Transgressing gender in discourses across cultures." In B. J. Dow & J. T. Wood (Eds.), SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication (pp.415-431). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

1999: Speaking Culturally: Language Diversity in the United States. Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Publications.