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This project is funded from the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Sites program in the SBE Directorate and the University of California UC-HBCU Initative. It has both scientific and societal benefits, and integrates research and education. This REU site is designed to increase diversity in the linguistic sciences by investigating the linguistic choices that underrepresented minority students make as they navigate higher education. The research sheds light on the role of language in social mobility, an important but understudied aspect of educational and economic advancement. It therefore supports the prosperity of underrepresented minorities and many findings are likely to generalize to and thus benefit other American populations.

The project fosters diversity in the linguistic sciences by involving undergraduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), which do not offer linguistics as a major. The findings of the research benefit colleges and universities by providing information about the nature of the language and culture of African-American college students, which has direct implications for teaching and mentoring. In addition, the project makes scholarly contributions to linguistics, sociology, and education. REU participants conduct interviews with African-American students and gather samples of academic writing and social media activity to create a public archive documenting the full range of underrepresented minority students’ linguistic practices. In Year 2, REU activities are divided between the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of California, Davis, to take advantage of the fact that the University of California, Davis will host the Linguistic Society of America’s biennial Institute in Summer 2019. The project thus begins to create a collaborative community of faculty interested in linguistics across HBCUs and other MSIs in order to build infrastructure across universities.

The primary objective of the REU site is to examine the role of language in social mobility while increasing the diversity of undergraduates engaged in the linguistic sciences. The project is the first to extensively document and analyze the linguistic choices and experiences of African-American English-speaking undergraduates as they navigate higher education. The project creates a free public archive of African-American English by having REU participants document the language of African-Americans on college and university campuses in Southern California. REU participants conduct sociolinguistic interviews with African-American undergraduates and gather samples of their academic writing and social media activity to document the full range of interviewees’ linguistic practices. The research answers questions about how African-American English is used and perceived by speakers in academic contexts, which in turn sheds light on the impact of language on the educational attainment and social mobility of African-American students. The primary training objective of the REU is to provide undergraduates from HBCUs and other MSIs with training and experience in the methods of linguistic research as well as in-depth mentoring and professional development in order to support their pursuit of a Ph.D. in linguistics or a related field. Research methods include sociolinguistic interviews, corpus building, statistical analysis of grammatical patterns, instrumental phonetic analysis, and discourse analysis. The REU contributes to linguistics, sociology, and education by shedding light on the role of language in higher education and African-Americans’ social mobility. The broader impacts of the project are to provide undergraduates from underrepresented groups with research experience and preparation for graduate school in linguistics and related fields, to benefit colleges and universities by sharing research results and their implications for teaching undergraduate African-American English speakers, and to create a professional network of faculty interested in linguistics.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

The UCSB-HBCU Scholars in Linguistics program establishes a partnership between UCSB and HBCU faculty to establish a pathway for HBCU students to enroll in UCSB’s graduate program in linguistics. The long-term goal of the project is to establish a sustainable model for cross-campus collaborations that broaden participation in linguistics and related fields. Since linguistics is not offered as a major at the HBCUs, a central goal of the project is to raise students’ awareness of and interest in linguistics as a direction for graduate study.

To read more about the project, see: https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1757654

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