Karen Pennesi

Karen Pennesi


Associate Professor -Linguistic and Sociocultural Anthropology

PhD 2007 (University of Arizona)
Office: Social Science Centre 3404
Tel: 519 661-2111  ext. 85098
E-mail: pennesi@uwo.ca


Research Interests

My research explores how language plays an integral part in the processes of constructing individual and group identities. The focus of my current work is on personal names, particularly the experiences of people whose names do not fit into the legal, institutional and conventional frameworks for the structure, spelling and pronunciation of names in Canada. As symbols of identity, I investigate how names influence self-perception and the unequal treatment of others. Names are especially important in issues related to immigration, social integration and belonging.  One aim of this research is to promote understanding and respect for everyone in a linguistically and culturally diverse society. See here to learn more about my research and for other interesting studies, news articles and videos about names.

Since 2020, I have been compiling data sets of verbal art posted in online platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. I am interested in the relationship between performers and audiences in the online environment, and the role of verbal art in times of social upheaval, particularly pertaining to experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and racism. My work in this area is still new as the situation continues to unfold. I have published one article on this topic so far:
Pennesi, Karen (2021) “What Does a Pandemic Sound Like: The Emergence of COVID Verbal Art.” Anthropologica 63(1). DOI: https://cas-sca.journals.uvic.ca/index.php/anthropologica/article/view/229

My past work examines the multiple meanings of weather and climate forecasts in different sociocultural and environmental contexts, including Northeast Brazil and the Canadian Arctic. An ethnographic and discourse-based perspective highlights communication issues emerging in these domains where science, local knowledge, culture and subjective experience intersect.

Other areas of research that interest me include: linguistic issues related to social justice, linguistic expressions of Indigenous experience and traditional knowledge, and communication between scientists and the public.

You can follow my work here:

Selected Publications on Names

Pennesi, Karen and Federica Guccini (2020) “How to get someone’s name right if it’s unfamiliar to you.” The Conversation. Available at https://theconversation.com/how-to-get-someones-name-right-if-its-unfamiliar-to-you-149671 22 November 2020.

Pennesi, Karen (2019) "Differential Responses to Constraints on Naming Agency among Indigenous Peoples and Immigrants in Canada." Language and Communication 64:91-103.

Pennesi, Karen (2017) “Universal Design for Belonging: Living and Working with Diverse Personal Names.” Journal of Belonging, Identity, Language and Diversity 1(1):25-44.

Pennesi, Karen (2016) “'They can learn to say my name': Redistributing Responsibility for Integrating Immigrants to Canada.” Anthropologica 58(1):46-59.

Pennesi, Karen (2016) “Diversity and Names: Designing for Belonging.” Belonging, Identity, Language, Diversity (BILD) Research Group Blog. Posted 8 May 2016.

Pennesi, Karen (2016) “NameCoach: hear the name, say it right.” Names: A Journal of Onomastics 64(1): 58-62

Iannozzi, Michael and Karen Pennesi (2015) “Does that Name Mean Anything to You?” Canadian Language Museum Blog. Posted 6 September 2015.

Pennesi, Karen (2014) “Reading and Righting the Names at a Convocation Ceremony: Ideological Influences on Name Usage in an Institutional Interaction. Names: A Journal of Onomastics 62(1): 37-48.

Selected Publications on Language and Identity in Northeast Brazil.

Pennesi, Karen (2015) “Constructing 'Farmer' and 'State' Identities in Moral Discourses about Semi-subsistence Agriculture in Northeast Brazil”. Journal of Latin American Studies 47(4): 781-809.

Pennesi, Karen (2013) “Predictions as Lies in Ceará, Brazil: the intersection of two cultural models.” Anthropological Quarterly 86(3):759-790.

Selected Publications on Weather and Climate Forecasting

Pennesi, Karen (2020) “Understanding Global Change: From Documentation and Collaboration to Social Transformation.” In Changing Climate, Changing Worlds: Local Knowledge and the Challenges of Social and Ecological Change. Meredith Welch-Devine, Anne Sourdril and Brian Burke (eds.). Switzerland: Springer Nature. Pp. 243-258.

Spinney, Jennifer and Karen Pennesi (2013) “When the River Started underneath the Land: Social Constructions of a 'Severe' Weather Event in Pangirtung, Nunavut.” Polar Record 49(4):362-372.

Pennesi, Karen, Jadah Arokium and Gordon McBean (2012) “Integrating Local and Scientific Weather Knowledge as a Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Arctic.” Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 17(8):897-922.

Pennesi, Karen (2011) “Making Forecasts Meaningful: Explanations of Problematic Predictions in Northeast Brazil.” Weather, Climate and Society 3(2):90-105.

Pennesi, Karen (2011) “A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Forecast Communication.” In The Weather and Society*Integrated Studies Project Compendium (Vol. 1). Julie Demuth, Sheldon Drobot and Eve Gruntfest (eds.) Boulder, CO: National Center for Atmospheric Research. Pp. 2.1-2.14.

Teaching and Graduate Supervision

Undergraduate courses I regularly teach include the following:

  • ANTH 1020 Many Ways of Being Human (Linguistic Anthropology unit)
  • ANTH 2243 Applied Linguistics
  • ANTH 2245 Anthropological Approaches to Language
  • ANTH 2249 Discourse Analysis and Pragmatics
  • ANTH 2250 Verbal Art, Performance and Speech Play
  • ANTH 2252 Languages in Canada

Graduate courses I have taught include Language and Identity, Discourse and Society, and Research Methods in Sociocultural Anthropology.

I welcome inquiries from graduate students interested in the following research areas:

  • Discourse analysis
  • Ethnometerorology
  • Expert discourses
  • Indigenous cultures and languages
  • Language and identity
  • Language issues in Brazil
  • Names and naming
  • Narrative and storytelling
  • Onomastics
  • Performance (verbal art)
  • Prediction and prophecy
  • Discourses about weather and society