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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

Randolph Quirk Fellow 2018 | Professor Lisa Green (UMass-Amherst) | Public lecture and film screening

3 May 2018

Time: 4:30 - 8:00pm
Venue: ArtsOne Lecture Theatre

16:30-17:30 - Public lecture

17:30-18:30 - Film screening

18:30-20:00 - Discussion and reception


Public Lecture: African American English and sounding black: Hot topics and debates

African American English (AAE), a systematic linguistic variety used by speakers with close ties to AAE-speaking communities, is arguably the most commonly studied dialect of American English. Since the 1960’s, claims about its legitimacy as a rule-governed system have been made and contested. In addition, the variety has been the topic of debates, such as those related to arguments about its historical origin and relation to the English language, on the one hand, and to Creoles and African languages, on the other. Along similar lines, arguments in the education arena have resurfaced over the years, especially in debates about the extent to which the linguistic variety should be taken into consideration in academic instruction of school-age AAE speakers and whether it should be taught as a separate language. More recently, AAE has been addressed from the perspective of issues related to the law. For instance, the Atlanta Drug Enforcement Agency has made requests for “Ebonics translators” who can aid in the transcription of language used in illegal activity, and questions continue to be raised about the extent to which use of AAE by witnesses in court cases impacts their statements, as in Rachel Jeantel’s testimony in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial. AAE continues to be a popular topic in sociopolitical contexts, and it remains in the forefront in popular culture, including social media formats such as Black Twitter. The social and political factors, such as the criminalization of school-age children, that propel AAE into the news spotlight often underscore issues in the so-called black community that are beyond the scope of language. In this talk, I consider some of the debates about AAE from social, political, and educational angles and raise questions about the extent to which current research on the variety actually addresses the issues that are topics of these debates.


Film Screening: Talking Black in America

A documentary produced by Walt Wolfram's Language and Life Project

Talking Black in America follows the unique circumstances of the descendants of American slaves and their incredible impact on American life and language. Speech varieties from the African American community reflect the imprint of African language systems, the influences of regional British and Southern American dialects, and the creativity and resilience of people living through oppression, segregation and the fight for equality. Filmed across the United States, Talking Black in America is a startling revelation of language as legacy, identity and triumph over adversity. With Reverend Jeremiah Wright, DJ Nabs, Professor Griff, Quest M.C.O.D.Y., Dahlia the Poet, Nicky Sunshine and many others.
“The status of African American speech has been controversial for more than a half-century now, suffering from persistent public misunderstanding, linguistic profiling, and language-based discrimination. We wanted to address that and, on a fundamental level, make clear that understanding African American speech is absolutely critical to understanding the way we talk today.”
-Walt Wolfram
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