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“A Model for Linguistic Reparations”

Dr. Anne H. Charity Hudley discusses Black language in higher education

On February 11, Dr. Anne Charity Hudley delivered a public lecture as part of the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series. The event was organized by McGill Linguistics faculty members Jessica Coon, Heather Goad, and Siva Reddy. Anne H. Charity Hudley, a professor of education at Stanford University “and Professor of African-American Studies and Linguistics by courtesy” presented her initiative “Talking College.”

The Talking College Project

Given the field’s history of racial inequality, Charity Hudley highlights the importance of establishing reparations in linguistics while recognizing and celebrating the importance of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). In her presentation, Charity Hudley noted that “American quantitative sociolinguistics has, over the past quarter century, drawn substantially on data from African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and the African American speech community for its descriptive, theoretical, and methodological development, but it has given relatively little back to that community in terms of representation or practice application.” Charity Hudley’s project strives to minimize the disparity in academic recognition between Black and white communities by “recognizing the material and intellectual profit from the linguistic value of community knowledge” and by recognizing the systemic “punishment of Black success on [a] national and university level.”

Some of Charity Hudley’s past initiatives to integrate primary and secondary education on Black language usage include published works such as Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools (2011) and We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom (2013). The release of Talking College: Making Space for Black Language Practices in Higher Education will advance Charity Hudley’s linguistics-based initiatives.

The Methodology of Talking College

According to the Talking College website, the textbook’s methodology is framed in “real-world examples of Black undergraduates attending colleges and universities in the United States” and regards their experiences of “African American English and Black language practices.” Charity Hudley explains that these “combinations of stories become a new way to reframe the sociolinguistic interview such that the individual narrative is never disembodied – the person and the individual is more fully woven into the collective.” Charity Hudley emphasizes this collective of academic identities as an asset to the project – she shared in her lecture that students involved in the Talking College initiative were “represented across the Black diaspora.”

The research assessed students in the following categories:

  • ”Students who speak African-American English who are still grappling with Standardized English and know it.”
  • “Students who speak African-American English and are unbothered.”
  • “Students who are amazing users of African-American English and are amazing at Standardized English.”
  • “Students who speak Standardized English and speak some African-American English or understand it.”
  • “Students who speak Standardized English and know African-American English but really ain’t trying to admit it.”
  • “Students who speak Standardized English and don’t know African-American English.”

The representation of Black students across a spectrum of standardized English and African-American English proficiency allows for widely applicable findings, according to Charity Hudley, and demonstrates the project’s commitment to represent “Black college students everywhere.”

Prioritizing Students

Charity Hudley reminded attendees of her lecture that her work “is for Black college students everywhere.” Her commitment to making the experience of Black Stanford students “better in real time” conveys the importance of “Black experiences” to her work, she explained. Through her research, Charity Hudley has documented an array of Black voices and experiences in various levels of college education – including many who express concern about their use of language. In her presentation, Charity Hudley quoted one graduate from a predominantly white institution (PWI) who expressed that “[she] ha[sn’t] always felt comfortable with [her] voice as [she is] now.” Although this student was categorized as one who speaks standardized English and not African-American English, she shared feelings of “being judged for how [she] looks and how [she] talks”. The acknowledgment of such racialized experiences of “linguistic expectations” in Talking College helps “advanc[e] racial justice, both on college campuses and throughout society,” explained Charity Hudley.  

Through Talking College, Dr. Charity Hudley described the critical roles of race and language “to address racism” of all forms, both in higher education and in society more generally. In response to several questions she was asked following the lecture, Charity Hudley encouraged instructors to consider whether they are prioritizing their own goals or those of their students. She claims that student-centred education is integral to realizing the academic and social goals of Talking College

Talking College will be available through Teachers College Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Though the website specifies that the book is “specifically tailored for African-American students,” it adds that Talking College “also provides crucial information for any reader who seeks to support the educational experiences of African-American students.”