School of Humanities and Sciences
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J. E. Wallace Sterling Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsI am a variationist sociolinguist (someone who studies language variation, often quantitatively, in relation to society and culture). I’m interested in understanding the relations between language variation, social structure and meaning, and language change, from descriptive, theoretical and applied perspectives.
A lot of my work has been devoted to understanding the linguistic, social and stylistic constraints on specific linguistic variables, like the variation between Guyanese pronouns am, she, and her in “e like am” (deep creole, basilect) versus “e like she” (intermediate creole, mesolect) versus “He likes her” (standard English, acrolect). Or, to take an American example, the variation between all and like as quotative introducers in “He’s all/like ‘I don’t know’.” But I’ve also been concerned with trying to figure out where such variables come from historically, and whether they represent ongoing or completed change. I’ve also used the data from specific variables to address larger methodological and theoretical concepts in sociolinguistics, like how best to conceptualize the speech community and analyze linguistic variation by social class and ethnicity, or to assess the role of addressee versus topic in style shifting or the validity of the hyothesis that linguistic and social constraints are essentially independent (in their effects, not frequencies).
My data come primarily from English-based creoles of the Caribbean (especially my native Guyanese Creole, but also Jamaican and Barbadian) and from colloquial American English (especially African American Vernacular English, but also, recently, from computer corpora, like Google newsgroup data). I’ve also been interested, increasingly since the 1990s, in how sociolinguistic research can be applied to help us understand and overcome the challenges that vernacular and creole speakers face in schools, where standard/mainstream varieties are expected.
Assistant Professor of Education and, by courtesy, of Linguistics
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsDr. Rosa’s book, Looking like a Language, Sounding like a Race: Raciolingusitic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad (2019, Oxford University Press), presents an ethnographic analysis of how administrators in a Chicago public high school whose student body is more than 90% Mexican and Puerto Rican seek to transform “at risk” Latinx youth into “young Latino professionals.” This intersectional mobility project paradoxically positions Latinx identity as the cause of and solution to educational underachievement. As a result, students must learn to be – and sound – “Latino” in highly studied ways. Students respond to anxieties surrounding their ascribed identities by symbolically remapping borders between nations, languages, ethnoracial categories, and institutional contexts. This reimagining of political, linguistic, cultural, and educational borders reflects the complex interplay between racialization and socialization for Latinx youth. The manuscript argues that this local scene is a key site in which to track broader structures of educational inequity by denaturalizing categories, differences, and modes of recognition through which raciolinguistic exclusion is systematically reproduced across contexts.