Speaker Series: Walt Wolfram

Walt Wolfram of North Carolina State University will be giving a talk (abstract below).


The talk will be in the IRCS Conference Room at 3:30pm and will be followed by the GradLingS reception. You must be over 21 and possess a valid ID to attend the second event.


On the Sociolinguistic Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:

Implications for Linguistic Equality


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s eminent status as an inspiring orator is one of his enduring legacies, and his discourse strategies are often cited as a model of different performance styles. At the same time, there are surprisingly few detailed sociolinguistic analyses of how he utilized particular features from his ethnolinguistic repertoire and the stances he constructed through his manipulation of particular linguistic variables.


This presentation examines several socially marked features of Dr. King’s speech in three different settings: (1) his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, read to an international audience in Oslo, Norway; in 1964; (2) his last public speech given to a predominantly African American audience to the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, and (3) a one-on-one television interview with host Merv Griffin during a talk show in New York City in 1967. The analysis considers his relative use of several well-known linguistic variables in these diverse context—unstressed ing/in variants, postvocalic -r lessness, and the regional and ethnic dimensions of his vowel system—to determine how he indexed his regional and ethnic identity as a Southern African American at the same time that he accommodated different audiences and interactions on a range of other social axes.


But there also is a deeper symbolic social meaning in Dr. King’s language variation and his dialect stance. His language performance and interaction embraced ethnolinguistic tradition and transcended linguistic diversity, modeling linguistic equality in action. Nonetheless, more than a half-century after his Nobel Prize award, linguistic inequality remains “the last back door to discrimination” (Rosina Lippi-Green 2012:73). In fact, well-intended academic institutions and university programs often reproduce and enable linguistic subordination rather than challenge it. As universities and public institutions grow diversity programs and initiatives, they continue to exclude or erase language from the diversity canon. I argue that King’s dictum “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” applies to linguistic inequality, and demonstrate by example how a sociolinguistic justice program can be implemented in a university, in a community, and in public education.

Thursday, February 5, 2015 - 3:30pm - 6:00pm
IRCS Conference Room