Labov’s “A Life of Learning”

I sent out a tweet with the slight hope of finding samples of the Martha’s Vineyard diphthong centralizing/raising that Labov studied. Edward Flemming pointed me to Labov’s 2009 Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture, which features audio of Donald Poole from 1961, and five other participants in Labov’s research: Jacob Schissel, NYC 1963; Larry Hawthorne, South Harlem 1967; Celeste Sullivan, South Philadelphia 1973; Jackie Garopedian Chicago 1986; Latasha Harris, West Philadelphia 2001. The talk is about what Labov learned from these people, about the nature of language, and much more.

Audio of Labov’s 2009 “A Life of Learning” talk with synced slides

The ACLS site currently only hosts the audio, and the slides were not available on Labov’s website, so I asked him for them. He graciously shared them with me, and you can get them from this link. He also gave me permission to make a video with the synced audio, which you can see in the above embedded YouTube video, or download as an .mp4 file from this link.

Laurel Mackenzie pointed me to a Wayback machine archive of an ACLS web page that has the complete transcript of the talk, the figures, and the audio.

Josef Fruehwald shared some memories: “[I] was lucky to be there for the talk, unforgettable…When he spoke about the little girl who would fight in school, you could hear a pin drop.”

The talk really is fantastic. My Sounds of Englishes students are now listening to the whole thing, and I’ve given them this assignment:

This video is a restropective of Bill Labov’s career, and serves as a fantastic introduction to the field he essentially created, sociolinguistics. He chooses to foreground 6 of the people he worked with as participants in his research. We get to hear each of these people speaking. Labov discusses both the importance of *what* they were saying, and aspects of linguistic structure.

For each one, please:

1. Write a short reflection of your own on what they are saying.

2. Say something about the linguistic structure of the speech.

For most of them, Labov does talk about the study he was doing, so for them, you can simply summarize. In those cases, include Labov’s discussion of social factors. For the ones that Labov does not discuss in terms of structure, you will have to make your own observations.  For each of the 12 answers (6 each), write just 2-4 sentences. Submit your response as a .pdf.

Assignment for Ling 370 Fall 2022