Panel on Language and Politics

There are real opportunities for experts in language and cognition to work with Real Reason in advancing social justice efforts. We are sponsoring the Panel on Language and Politics to provide a forum for students, faculty, and scholars of linguistics and cognitive science in the San Francisco Bay Area community to be a part of this work.

The Panel offers the chance to help create solutions to conceptual problems and related communication challenges faced by Real Reason's current partners. This involves identifying and evaluating the mental frameworks people use to understand contentious political issues like reproductive rights, the role of government, sexuality education, LGBT issues, and racial and socio-economic inequalities.

Launched in February 2011, the Panel currently meets every other week at the David Brower Center in downtown Berkeley. Participation in the Panel involves commitments on the part of both Real Reason and Panel members. Cognitive linguists and others in related disciplines who are interested in joining the Panel are encouraged to contact Erik Sahlin ( for more details.

Current Panel members include:

Julia Bernd
Julia received her MA in Linguistics from Stanford University, where she studied syntax, sociolinguistics, and discourse analysis. She has since applied her academic training to practical causes by working on social and public-health research projects. She is a member of the consulting group Cause Data Collective, where she was part of a team that developed a broad-based needs assessment for Latino young men and boys in Oakland. She has also worked as a qualitative analyst for the Romantic Relationship Models and Adolescent Health Research Project at UCSF and the Family Acceptance Project™ at SFSU. Julia's interest in language and culture has led to multiple simultaneous careers; she is a professional editor as well as a social scientist. In addition, she has long been involved in grassroots progressive activism; she was previously the Assistant Director of Peninsula Peace and Justice Center in Palo Alto and currently serves on PPJC's Board of Directors.

Alex Bratkievich
Alex began his linguistics studies at the Universidad de la República in Montevideo, Uruguay. He then completed his undergraduate degree and earned his M.A. at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is now completing the PhD program in Linguistics with a Designated Emphasis in Film. Alex's primary research interest is examining the role of viewpoint and subjectivity in the production and understanding of meaning, both in language and film. He is particularly interested in how viewpoint and subjectivity interact with frame and metaphor-based reasoning in the discussion of political issues. The focus of Alex's research to date has been the gay marriage debate, as a part of his broader interest in how the diverse needs of different people (socioeconomic class, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.) can be integrated within a society.

Maggie Dunbar
Maggie Dunbar is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley. She majored in Interdisciplinary Studies, concentrating on Language and Political Power, with a minor in public policy. Academically, she is interested in critical discourse analysis and its application to social justice issues. Maggie is particularly active in issues of gender violence, sexual assault, and women's rights. Before moving on to graduate school, Maggie will be working at the Family Justice Center in Modesto developing a curriculum around domestic violence for high school students.

Michael Ellsworth
Michael Ellsworth studied at the University of Georgia before coming to the PhD program in Linguistics at UC Berkeley, where he is studying cross-linguistic differences in overt expression and description of emotions, covering phenomena as disparate as poetic metaphor and the use of four-letter words. This work is aimed in part at informing culturally sensitive translation and cross-cultural communication, but given that there are serious gaps in the understanding of emotion expression even in American English, Michael has considerable interest in refining emotional communication in general. Alongside his linguistic interests, Michael has been an ardent supporter of progressive causes like pacifism, poverty issues, health care, and equality, within student governement, in his private life, and as a long-time volunteer at the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center. He hopes to hone the emotional core of progressive messages that are near and dear to his heart.