Graduating ASU linguist-lawyer works to improve, clarify speech rights

By

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

In today’s fraught political climate, when newsfeeds regularly buzz with complex questions about the nature of “free speech,” we can be glad for one new Arizona State University graduate.

Amanda Weaver, a Phoenix attorney with Snell & Wilmer, is completing her PhD in applied linguistics at ASU this spring. Her academic focus is in the linguistic considerations of the First Amendment entitlement, and she has analyzed provisions affording free speech in constitutional documents — not just in the U.S. but also in another geopolitical hotspot: Russia.

On March 12, Weaver defended her dissertation, “Thinking/Speaking/Acting 'Freely'? A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Free Speech Provisions in the United States and Russian Constitutions,” in which she looked for avenues to protect or improve speech rights.

Karen Adams, a professor of English in linguistics and a member of Weaver’s committee, lauded Weaver’s work for being both comprehensive and timely.

“It provides major insights into differing ideologies of ‘freedom’ that are at the heart of the founding principles of the two nations and their governments,” she said.

Weaver also completed two undergraduate degrees at ASU in 2010 — in English (linguistics) and in Russian — and a certificate in Russian and Eastern European studies. She earned a master’s degree (2012) and Juris Doctor (2017) at the University of Arizona, graduating sixth in her law class of 133. She clerked for one of Arizona’s Supreme Court Justices in 2017–18 while working on her doctorate.

“She has achieved so much due to her skill at framing important and answerable questions and staying extraordinarily well organized,” Adams said.

Professor Danko Sipka, the coordinator of Slavic language and cultures in the School of International Letters and Cultures, who supervised Weaver’s undergraduate and graduate studies, praised her academic performance over the past decade. “Her work was stellar at all times,” he said. “She brings a unique multidisciplinary (approach).”



We spoke with Weaver about her multilayered accomplishments, her community work and her surprising therapeutic outlet.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? 

Answer: I have loved language for as long as I can remember. My undergraduate degrees (in English linguistics and Russian) here at ASU were the first major steps I took towards realizing that passion, and my passion has only increased since that time, particularly as I have honed in on the importance of language and linguistics in the legal field.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I am not sure I could pin it down to one thing, but one of my favorite things about my program in the English department is my fellow students: so many of my classes, even though they were generally small graduate courses, were full of smart, interesting people from all over the world. This variety of perspectives, backgrounds and experiences of my classmates throughout my coursework enriched my educational experience immeasurably.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because the professors here had not only the expertise, but also the willingness and enthusiasm to assist me in seeking out my interdisciplinary interests and accomplishing my research goals.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My PhD adviser, Danko Sipka, has been invaluable in his support and guidance of my development as a scholar. I first took one of his classes as an undergraduate in 2006, and have benefited from his leadership and scholarship since that time.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Seek out — or continue pursuing — something you are passionate about, and dedicate yourself to it. When you have the drive to study and devote yourself to something you care about, success follows!

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I have recently become very fond of Ross-Blakley Hall — it is the new home of the English department, so I have certainly spent some time there during my PhD studies! It is also the former home of ASU’s law school, and because my dissertation explored linguistics in connection with U.S. and Russian constitutional law, the overlap of law and linguistics in one building is very poetic to me.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to continue my career: I am an attorney newly admitted to practice in Arizona and recently joined the law firm of Snell & Wilmer in downtown Phoenix. I look forward to using my background in linguistics and its intersection in the legal field as I develop in my career of practicing law and working to help our clients and the community.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would dedicate those funds to increasing the availability and assistance of animal therapy to populations with increased barriers to access — individuals with special needs, servicemembers and first responders, incarcerated individuals, etc. I began involvement with equine therapy in high school, and volunteered for about 10 years with different organizations. I have found few things more fulfilling than assisting in the therapeutic process through a shared love of animals and the innumerable benefits that such therapy can provide.