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Plenary Speaker




1 pm – 2:10 pm

Rethinking Labov’s “Principle of Error Correction”: teaching about language variation through an anti-racism lens

Chair: Carlos de Cuba (Kingsborough Community College)

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Sociolinguistics in the U.S. has a long history of activism and advocacy regarding the linguistic legitimacy of African American English (AAE) (e.g. Ball et al. 2005, Labov 1970; Rickford 1999, Smitherman 1981; 1998, Wolfram 1998), the reclamation of native American languages (e.g. Hinton 2002; Wolfram & Dannenberg 1999), the validity of language practices of emergent bilinguals (e.g.Garcia & Sanchez 2015; Garcia et al. 2017), community involvement (e.g. Bucholtz et al. 2014, etc.), and various forms of giving back to the communities who contribute their time and efforts to the advancement of sociolinguistics (Labov 1982; Wolfram 1993; Rickford 1997; Wolfram et al. 2008). More recently, we have seen the Linguistic Society of America embracing an activist stance in its Statement on Race (Hudley et al. 2018). Yet, As Lewis (2018) points out, we still have a long way to go. Overt racism has reentered public discourse, there is an epidemic of police killings of black and brown people, and the gap in terms of income, generational wealth, access to good education, safe affordable housing, quality health care and life expectancy between whites and black/indigenous/Latinx people is staggeringly high and keeps increasing.

The idea that changing people’s harmful misconceptions about language can reduce the effects of racist beliefs and practices in society has been an underlying principle of the field of sociolinguistics and a foundational part of my self-conception as a scholar. Labov (1982) framed this as the Principle of Error Correction (PEC). Several interconnected factors have shaken my long-standing and narrow focus on the PEC. The first has been the crisis of police killings of black citizens, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the renewed sense of urgency to center social justice and anti-racism in our everyday lives and in our work. A second factor was Lewis’ (2018) piece questioning whether spreading knowledge about language variation does anything to rid society of racism. A third factor has been the pushback in my classes from African American, Afro-Canadian, and Afro-Caribbean in-service teachers about terms like African American English (AAE). A fourth factor is emerging work in raciolinguistics (Alim et al. 2016, Rosa & Flores 2017, etc.) and translanguaging (Canagaragah 2011, Li Wei 2018, Garcia & Kleyn 2016) which challenge mainstream sociolinguistic framings of race and named languages as bounded systems.

Building on the foundation of these experiences and shifts in the field, I ask what racially-sensitive sociolinguists can do to promote structural change in the field, the classroom and the institution. I reflect critically on my own privilege and my practices as a white, female sociolinguist and think about ways to embrace a more effective, activist agenda. I explore alternative critical approaches to talking about language variation and share ideas for critically centering anti-racism and the language ideologies, practices and lived experiences of African-American, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian-American people in the U.S.

BIO: Cece Cutler’s primary research interests are in sociocultural linguistics, language and identity, applied linguistics and language activism. She has worked on language styling/crossing among white hip hop youth, how immigrant youth express identity through language choice, and discursive performance of authenticity. Her recent work looks at language practices and metapragmatic commentary on YouTube (Scottish English, Chicano hip hop, and New York City English). She is currently researching and writing about language activism, racism in linguistics, and linguicism in the education system. Her forthcoming work includes two volumes: Language Activism: The Role of Scholars in Linguistic Reform and Social Change with Unn Røyneland and Zvjezdana Vrzic (Cambridge University Press) and Digital orality: vernacular writing in online spaces with Wafa Bahri and May Ahmar, (Palgrave).