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Ling Fridays Colloquia: Drake on disrupting linguistic bias

April 7 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Disrupting linguistic bias through experiential learning in an introductory linguistics class

Veronika Drake, Saginaw Valley State University

Abstract: Prejudice about groups of people simply based on their dialect (Baker-Bell, 2020; Lippi-Green, 2012) is not only very common, it is also known as the backdoor to discrimination (Landecker, 2016). In this pilot study, I implemented experiential learning (Kolb & Kolb, 2018) activities in an introductory linguistics class to understand better if and how those activities can help disrupt linguistic bias. The key activities include a voice sample activity where participants chose a speaker for various roles such as bodyguard and tutor based solely on a voice sample as well as activities that involve transcription of everyday conversation and portions of Rachel Jeantel’s testimony in the George Zimmerman trial. 16 participants completed a pre- and post-survey that included questions about linguistic bias/discrimination, dialects, sentence-rating questions, and questions about participants’ self-reported learning. Analysis of this data shows that participants’ knowledge about linguistic bias and discrimination increased significantly over the course of the semester. Post-survey responses indicate that participants are deeply troubled by linguistic discrimination and disavow it explicitly. Yet, sentence rating questions reveal that especially Southern American English and some African American English sentences continue to be rated as less grammatical than Mainstream American English sentences, pointing to deep-seated notions about ‘correctness.’ Participants reported that the voice sample activity, which targeted their own personal linguistic biases, was less effective than the newly-implemented activities about language in the courtroom, which are about biases of others. Overall, survey data suggests that experiential learning can be a powerful tool to disrupt linguistic biases.

Email rashields@wisc.edu for the link.


April 7
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
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