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Summer Institute

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  • Ever wondered why ftagn isn't a possible English word?
  • Why is it that when your friend messages you a “K.” instead of an “ok”, you'll likely think that your friend is somehow upset. Periodt. Or maybe they were just being extra.
  • What exactly is language and how do we use it?
  • What are our attitudes toward language?
  • What are some stereotypes and prejudices grounded in language use related to gender, race, ethnicity and identity?
  • And, most importantly, how is all of this relevant to teaching, the classroom, student learning and student outcomes?

Delve into the fascinating features of human language, learn about the connection between language and society, and gain awareness about linguistic bias and linguistic discrimination. Join faculty at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) and experts in language study in this two-week residential institute to learn about how our various attitudes about language affect not just our everyday lives, but also – and especially – K-12 classrooms, our teaching, and our students' learning.

The Institute, Language and Linguistic Prejudice Related to Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Identity, will run from Sunday, July 16, 2023 through Friday, July 28, 2023. It will address the contradiction between the fact that most people renounce discrimination related to race, ethnicity, gender, and identity, but the same people continue holding discriminatory beliefs about language. The problem is that identity and language are inherently related, and much of the linguistic prejudice is a reflection of the prejudice toward social groups.

Two main questions will guide our discussions during the Institute:

  1. How is language implicated in linguistic bias and discrimination tied to ethnicity and race?
  2. How is language implicated in linguistic bias and discrimination tied to gender?

Linguistic bias tied to race and ethnicity can be seen in structures like "I seen that" or "I ain't got no time," which are often derided as sloppy, lazy, broken English. However, these structures are grammatically correct. There's nothing wrong with them linguistically; they just happen to belong to a non-mainstream dialect of English.  Seeing those structures as broken or lazy often leads to educators viewing students who use those features as lazy and deficient. These kinds of attitudes – this kind of linguistic prejudice – can and does impact learning outcomes for K-12 students. Another example of linguistic discrimination is prejudice toward “foreigner accents” and ideologies tied to the English-only movement in the US, which connects to the extermination of Native American languages during colonization.

Language plays a crucial role in how we construct our sexual identities, gender identities, and gender expressions. One example of linguistic bias tied to gender is the disparate responses podcast hosts receive. Male podcasters are rarely (if ever) subject to listener complaints about features of their voices such as creaky voice (aka vocal fry). Yet, female podcast hosts are routinely bombarded with such criticism. Mainstream assumptions, beliefs and stereotypes about gender contribute to the perpetuation of gender bias, gender prejudice and gender-based discrimination. The Institute will examine the multiple ways language reflects and further perpetuates gender stereotypes, heteronormativity, and homophobia. As a participant in the Summer Institute, you will have opportunities to analyze language use connected to various gender biases through hands-on analyses of data corpora.  You will also have ample opportunity to apply what you're discovering to your own teaching.

This Summer Institute will help the participants better understand the connection between language and identity; it will emphasize the ways many commonly-held beliefs about the nature and function of language are discriminatory, and will suggest more equitable and inclusive approaches to language. Throughout the institute, the co-directors and linguistics experts will highlight  practical applications to the K-12 contexts. As a participant, you'll be engaged in a learning community with your fellow K-12 educators, the institute co-directors, and four leading experts in the fields of Black Language education and anti-racist pedagogies, homophobic language use, language and discrimination, and the study of grammar. Check out the bios of these folks here.

The Institute will be conducted on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University for two weeks in July 2023. It will provide ample opportunities for hands-on analysis and in-depth discussion. It will be taught by faculty specializing in linguistic prejudice and will feature guest speakers who are prominent scholars in the field.

Prior to the institute start date, all participants will be provided with copies of three books, which will serve as the core readings – check out the books here.

National Endowment for the Humanities

The National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities


Natalia Knoblock

Veronika Drake