Summer Dialect Research Project 2018

Four undergraduate students participated in the Summer Dialect Research Project (SDRP) at UMass in June hosted by the Center for the Study of African American Language (CSAAL). The Center, directed by Lisa Green, fosters and integrates research on language in African American speech communities and applications of that research in different realms. Three students, Christian Muxica, Alexander Santos, and Emily Smith, are enrolled at UMass and majoring in linguistics. Janiya Gilbert is a sophomore at North Carolina A&T University in the animal science program and has interests in language-related and social justice fields. The participants gained research experiences in areas in the study of African American English (AAE), a linguistic variety spoken by some African Americans. They worked on their skills in linguistics while also building broader analytical, argumentation, and collaboration skills. They completed group critical review projects and individual research projects that required analysis of data sets from AAE. During the three-week program, participants attended lecture/discussion sessions with UMass faculty, researchers, and graduate students, who covered topics in syntax, phonology, acquisition, psycholinguistics, and natural language processing. Professors Joe Pater and Kristine Yu worked with the participants in interactive sessions on topics related to sound patterns of AAE, such as the production of word final -t/-d and prosodic properties of yes-no questions in the variety. Professors Tom Roeper and Brian Dillon shared research on topics in acquisition and language processing and linked that research to data in AAE. For instance, Professor Dillon made the connection between research on garden path sentences and subject relative constructions in AAE. In other sessions, researchers discussed ways in which work in linguistics relates to other disciplines. Dr. Barbara Pearson, former research associate at UMass, demonstrated how research used to develop assessments in communication disorders for children who speak all varieties English, including AAE, has drawn on linguistics. Computer science graduate student Su Lin Blodgett presented her research on natural language processing and AAE and Twitter. One participant summed up his experience in the program in the following way: “I really enjoyed these three weeks and got a lot out of our work and hope to shape my senior year linguistic work around some of this research and our projects.”