Emanuela Mileva

People Profiles

June 03, 2020
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Linguistics PhD graduate in the Faculty of Arts + Social Sciences

I was born and raised on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. In my early childhood I was exposed to my grandma’s switching between three languages (Bulgarian, Greek and French) every time there was something she and her sister didn’t want me to understand. It was then that it struck me how language can be a powerful tool for not only keeping your secrets but also for expressing yourself in a different way.

Later, as a teenager in a specialized liberal arts high school, I built a solid foundation in advanced literary analysis. So, it was only natural to me that this love for language and literature would eventually result in a MA degree (Modern Greek and Bulgarian philology from Sofia University, Bulgaria). During those five years I took my passion to a new level and gained not only philological expertise, but also immersion in the literary traditions of Western Europe, Mediterranean and the Balkans.

Fast-forward a few years to Vancouver, Canada, where my perspectives were dramatically expanded by the North American academic culture with MA and PhD programmes in Linguistics at SFU. I finished my PhD program in Linguistics in 2019 and since then I’ve been teaching linguistic courses at both SFU and UBC.

Why did you choose to come to SFU?

As a matter of fact, I chose SFU twice. The first time was for my MA program back in 2007. The second time was for my PhD program in 2010.

I already had a MA degree in Modern Greek and Bulgarian philology from Sofia University, Bulgaria, and I wanted to continue in that direction of linguistic endeavour. Dr. Panayiotis Pappas' research on Greek was a true inspiration for what a sociolinguist can do in a well-grounded and engaging way – to explain how linguistic phenomena are intertwined with the social side of the speakers. That aligned neatly with my interest in Balkan languages such as Greek and Bulgarian.

My PhD research took on a different path, still within the realm of sociolinguistics. I became interested in the communication between doctors and patients. I was and am still fascinated by how people use language to build relationships in institutional contexts, and I explore the mechanisms through which they negotiate power, establish common ground, and portray personas. During this long journey, in addition to my Senior Supervisor Dr. Pappas, I was fortunate to work with Dr. Maite Taboada whose indomitable spirit and remarkable talent of finding solutions to any challenge helped me tremendously.

To sum it all up, it was really for the people that I pursued my degrees at SFU. They greenlighted my interdisciplinary research and supported me all the way through.

Tell us about your research and/or program.

That’s an interesting question! This depends on which family member I am talking to. My husband is quite familiar with every aspect of my research, but if I am to explain my current research to my mom, it would be along the lines of:
I am exploring how doctor and patient communicate during medical visits. I want to know how the doctor’s agenda aligns with the patient’s goals and how they use language to achieve these in a collaborative fashion. From what I can tell, she seems to understand what I am researching.

What are you particularly enjoying about your studies/research at SFU?

Besides the chance to do interdisciplinary research, a precious gift from the time of my studies is the people I met – several faculty members and fellow graduate students who have since become a valuable presence in my life.

Have you been the recipient of any major or donor funded awards?

I have been awarded SSHRC scholarships for both my MA and PhD programmes. They were absolutely crucial for me. I was able to undertake qualitative research that required conducting sociolinguistic interviews and recording medical visits with patients. Both processes were very time-consuming so the awards allowed me to sustain myself during graduate studies and be able to devote time to research.

Do you have any advice for students?

Being in a PhD program cultivates a lot of skills – both academic and personal. My first advice would be to take as many classes as you can in order to broaden your horizon. This would be also essential for you to find what truly ignites your passion as a researcher and translate it into a thesis topic. Thus, my second advice, as trivial as it may sound, is to love your subject. The journey of writing a thesis can be exciting and frustrating at the same time, so you will need all the passion you will have on a certain topic to take this to fruition.

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