Linguistics, as a discipline, is working toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and the Department of Linguistics at the University of Kentucky is deeply invested in those goals. The contemporary study of language was grounded in the work of Franz Boas who studied Native American languages in order to prove to his contemporaries that there is no such thing as a primitive people. All languages–spoken, written and signed–are equally capable of expressing the totality of human thought. The study of language in society, specifically, demonstrates that the variation inherent in language is never random or ignorant but is linked to cultural, social, historical, political, and identity-based factors. The languages we speak and how we speak them create and communicate who we are.
As linguists, we work to recognize that diversity of thought and diversity of experience stem from diversity in lived experience: racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, socio-economic circumstances, sexuality, inter-personal and familial situations, physical disabilities, and the idiosyncrasies of individual brains. Diversity and variation in language reflect the diversity and variation within human groups and behavior and should be respected and valued. We believe Linguistics has a lot to offer in fighting and organizing against anti-Blackness, anti-Asian bias, and other causes of racial and social injustices; both in terms of outreach and understanding the power of language in racial justice and the discourse surrounding it. At the same time, we recognize the importance of acknowledging the systemic anti-Blackness that has pervaded and influenced both the history of our discipline and the U.S.
As a department, we also work to counter ideologies that equate non-standard varieties in the United States, including Appalachian Englishes, African American Language, Latinx Languages, and Native American Languages, with lack of education, poverty, racism, and other ill-founded notions. About “standard” English, we recognize that 1) no one exclusively speaks a “standard” variety (of any language) and 2) what people call “standard” is often a stand-in for racism, classism, sexism, and other exercises of power and subjugation.
As linguists we hold these beliefs to be true, but we also recognize that linguistics still has issues with colonialism and racism, and the faculty in this department are committed to working toward decolonizing the field and our teaching of it. We are aware that the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is never ‘finished’ but should instead be part of an ongoing effort. We are committed to continuing the hard work of becoming more inclusive and equitable ourselves.
Links to Linguistic Society of America statements and resources:
The Department of Linguistics has courses that deal with DEI topics specifically, but we can do more with our introductory-level course for non-majors:
- All of our introductory classes teach students about the inherent variability in language and how that variability is linked to ideologies of language use [“How to Create Your Own Language” (LIN 200), “Introduction to the Study of Language” (LIN 211), “Introduction to Linguistics I” (LIN 221), “Introduction to Language II” (LIN 222)]
- Courses as outreach – teaching courses that cover issues of DEI in ways that attract students, introduced at the lower level [e.g., “American English” (LIN 310), “Appalachian English” (LIN 311), “Language and Culture” (LIN 325), “Language and Global Hip Hop” (LIN 317 subtitle)] and expanded upon within our higher-level courses [e.g., “Sociolinguistics” (LIN 506), “Linguistic Anthropology” (LIN 507), “Discourse Analysis” (LIN 508)]
- Our department offers a UK Core Course: “Language in U.S. Society” (LIN 331), which is designed to reach the whole campus and introduce students to the linguistic diversity of the United States and the role of language in the production and negotiation of various forms of social difference (e.g., ethnicity, gender, region, etc.). Topics include the role of language in the formation of social identity categories, social issues related to dialects and multilingualism in American society. Emphasis is on questions of power and resistance related to language use in the contexts of government, education and business.
- The department will soon consider permanent courses on Latinx Englishes, language use in the African American communities, and native languages of the U.S. and Canada.
While our department represents a diversity of experience (e.g., first generation college students, varying socio-economic experiences, etc.), we recognize that we need to work on inclusion and equity in order to create an environment that is more welcoming to diverse students and colleagues. That being said, our department pledges to improve the racial and ethnic diversity of our faculty and staff. We will also seek to hire scholars dedicated to the study of under-represented and under-served language varieties.
We have explored several “target of opportunity” hires over the past several years, and we are optimistic that we will be able to attract another talented faculty member of color to the department in the near future. We seek out every opportunity to collaborate with the A&S Diversity and Inclusivity committee and UK’s Office of Institutional Diversity. Dr. Barrett has sponsored three Lyman T. Johnson Postdoctoral Fellows who contributed enormously to the intellectual life of the department. Dr. Barrett was also selected as an A&S Inclusivity Fellow to work with a small faculty committee to develop a minor in Native American Studies (project ongoing). Dr. Cramer has developed an introductory module for international students to acquaint them with linguistic norms in Kentucky. Within the field, our faculty seek out ways to promote inclusivity as well, such as Dr. Preston’s recent generous gift to the Linguistic Society of America for the establishment of the Dennis R. and Carol Guagliardo Preston Fund for Diversity in Linguistics, which will be used to support students from underrepresented groups wishing to attend the annual meeting of the society.
The demographics of Linguistics undergraduate majors and graduate student populations at UK are not as racially or ethnically diverse as we would like, although many of the courses we teach as electives draw diverse communities of students. As faculty we make an effort to reach out to non-majors as well as majors, and our annual awards day includes the awarding of “book prizes” to students in our introductory courses who are not linguistics majors, as one effort to reach out to talented students who may not yet have considered linguistics as a major. Our director of undergraduate studies and our director of graduate studies welcome every opportunity to speak to prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds, and they work closely with the College recruiting office and the Graduate School.
We will work to recruit more diverse undergraduate and graduate students who represent a more diverse array of racial and ethnic groups.
As indicated above, linguistics in general deals with the diversity and variation inherent in language and language use. Each member of our department engages with issues of variation and diversity in language. Examples:
- Several members of the department do research on implicit bias, discrimination, etc. Many journal articles and books, including a revised version of an influential textbook, English with an Accent by three of our faculty members, directly address issues related to linguistic discrimination in the United States and abroad.
- In addition to sociolinguistics, a major strength in the department is in the area of corpus and computational linguistics. Faculty and students engaged in these areas at UK have worked to establish best practices for integrating socially meaningful information in those research projects. For example, a recent graduate built a corpus to investigate the role of dehumanizing language in sports journalism on perceptions of race.
- The Linguistic Atlas Project (LAP) is a 90+ year old collection of American dialect variation, and with the arrival of Dr. Allison Burkette, it has its home at UK. The upcoming soft launch of its UK website will focus on Gullah and on the Linguistic Atlas of Hawaii, which works to highlight the diversity that the project has.
- With the arrival of Dr. Dennis R. Preston as editor, UK is now home to the Journal of Linguistic Geography, a journal that examines diversity with respect to questions of language variation and change from a geospatial emphasis.
- Research in the UK Phonetics Lab focuses on speech perception research investigating the role of bias in listening and speaking. Recent publications include an examination of socially-guided perception in a long-standing Spanish/Quechua language contact situation.
- Each year we host a “Martin Luther King Jr. Colloquium” intended to highlight scholars whose research clearly exemplifies the mission and legacy of Dr. King in the language research.
The Department serves as a resource for Fayette County Public Schools with regard to language diversity in a county where 190 different languages are spoken in the home. Faculty members have been involved in the organization that handles refugee resettlement in Kentucky, lending expertise to the creation of a service-learning course in which linguistics students will work as English tutors with new refugees. Dr. Barrett has been active in his support of indigenous language speakers who are ill-served by available translation services.
Generally, we intend to increase engagement with the community to increase awareness of language diversity. Currently, Dr. Cramer serves as a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council’s speakers bureau, presenting on language variation in Kentucky and in Appalachia at various events across the state. Dr. McGowan has presented on the science of speech at local elementary schools and science museums. Dr. Byrd helps organize and run the local division of the Scripps National Spelling Bee with the goal of increasing participation by students from underserved parts of the state.
Drs. Cramer and Barrett, along with colleagues in the Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures, and Cultures department, coordinated a college-sponsored lunch event on the topic of linguistic discrimination in our classrooms.
In 2021-2022, the Executive Committee will receive its charge to develop an implementation plan and timeline for execution of this DEI plan. The committee has already considered several potential items for revising the plan in the future, such as a survey of recent undergraduate and graduate students about their experiences in the program with respect to DEI efforts.
It should be noted that the department underwent external review in 2019-2020, and the first item from our implementation plan indicates that we will prioritize hiring new faculty members in the areas of linguistic structure from underrepresented groups. Assuming an ability to hire, we would propose two such hires over the next two academic years. Another item indicates that we will continue to work toward a safe, civil, and equitable department culture for all members, in order to establish safeguards for avoidance of inequity and discrimination. This conversation will begin at our retreat in Fall 2021 and will include a revision to our departmental policies and procedures. Yet another item indicates that we will develop strategies to recruit, retain, and support faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates from underrepresented groups. The timeline indicated there says we will have a comprehensive DEI plan approved by Spring 2022, and other efforts from that plan will begin being enacted in 2022-2023.