Welcome to New Faculty Member Ryan Henke

Ryan Henke

Language Sciences is happy to announce the addition of new tenure-track faculty member Ryan Henke to our program! Professor Henke joins us from the University of Hawaiʻi, where he recently defended his thesis The first language acquisition of nominal inflection in Northern East Cree: Possessives and nouns. His research has focused on the first language acquisition of indigenous languages, and he has also made contributions to documentation and revitalization efforts in several native communities. His work has been published in a number of venues including Journal of Child Language, Papers of the Algonquian Conference, and the Oxford Handbook of Endangered Languages. His position is part of the “Opening Doors Through Language: Access and Equity” cluster hire. We are thrilled to welcome him to UW-Madison!


Professor Henke will be teaching Ling 571: Structure of a Language (Northern East Cree) in Fall 2020, and Ling 322: Morphology as well as a graduate-level linguistics seminar in Spring 2021. We look forward to the skills in research, teaching, and community service that he brings to campus.


A geographic and career move of this magnitude is difficult at the best of times, and even more so this semester! We hope everyone will be able to meet Professor Henke soon, and in the meantime will extend him a warm virtual welcome. He was kind enough to answer a few questions to introduce himself in this space:


You have just completed your PhD at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa–congratulations! Tell us a little bit about your experience there.

Thanks! I had a great time at UH—a lot of priceless opportunities and experiences that helped me develop as a researcher and teacher. The Department of Linguistics at UH provided excellent training in my fields of interest, access to research and networking resources, as well as professional training and development. Living in Hawaiʻi was a nice bonus too.


What originally sparked your interest in Linguistics?

I was always interested in studying and learning languages but didn’t know you could do it for a career. I thought “linguists” were just cryptologists or code-breakers. But one day I read a magazine article about a team of linguists doing language documentation, and that was it for me. A couple weeks later, I started taking classes in linguistics and things just proceeded from there.


Tell us a little bit about your mentors. Who were the researchers that influenced you most in the field?

It’s hard to name just a few people. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had great mentors at not only UH but also through my experiences working with professors, language teachers, activists, and students through Memorial University, CILLDI, CoLang, and more. They’ve helped me expand my perspectives and develop my interests, and they’ve opened so many doors for me.


What do you hope to accomplish at UW-Madison? What are you most excited about with the move up north (presumably not the weather…)?

I don’t want to jinx anything, so right now I’ll just say my goal is to become a successful contributing member of the UW community in teaching, research, and beyond. I’m very excited for this opportunity. UW-Madison is a top-notch university, and Language Sciences is a new and expanding program. I’m also looking forward to exploring Madison more after the pandemic subsides. Tons of great places to eat, activities to do, and places to go.


Do you have any hobbies or fun activities you enjoy?

I grew to love outdoor activities in Hawaiʻi, especially hiking and snorkeling. I’m looking forward to finding new things to enjoy here in Wisconsin too. Last week I drove through parts of the Driftless Area, and that was pretty spectacular. I’m excited to see all that Madison and the rest of Wisconsin have to offer.