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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Effect of Sociocultural Linguistics Pedagogy on Youth Language Attitudes

  • Author(s): Bax, Anna
  • Advisor(s): Bucholtz, Mary
  • et al.

In this thesis, I explore the question of whether participation in a college-level sociocultural linguistics curriculum can change a majority-Latin@ group of California high school students’ attitudes toward marginalized, ethnoracially-associated varieties of English.

I employ a standardized metric, the Speech Evaluation Instrument (Zahn and Hopper 1985), to test students’ language attitudes before and after completion of UC Santa Barbara’s SKILLS program, an innovative college-level sociocultural linguistics course. Language attitudes were indirectly measured using the verbal guise method (Ball and Giles 1982), wherein the same text is recorded by speakers of different speech varieties and played for participants, who then rate the speakers on 7-point semantic differential scales. Students evaluated the local White California English prestige dialect as well as African American English, Chicano English, and the Spanish-dominant English of an adult second language learner. Pre-survey and post-survey data were then subjected to statistical analysis.

Three major findings of the study merited further discussion. First, in the pre-survey data, the speaker of White California English was rated the highest across all four component variables identified by Principal Components Analysis. After completion of the SKILLS program, however, the order of rankings shifted: the speaker of Chicano English became the highest-rated on the Attractiveness component, which includes many solidarity-type items, and the speaker of African American English took first place on the Dynamism component, which measures “speakers’ social power, activity level, and the self-presentational aspects of speech” (Zahn and Hopper 1985: 119). Notably, there were no significant differences in evaluations of speakers of Chicano English and White California English between the pre-survey and post-survey. This finding differs from a well-established pattern in previous studies in which Anglo speakers are evaluated more highly than Latin@ speakers, even by Latin@ raters (e.g., Carranza and Ryan 1975a, b).

Second, students’ attitudes towards African American English improved significantly between the pre-survey and the post-survey on the Linguistic-Intellectual Status and Dynamism components, even rising from last to first rank on the latter variable. As part of the larger project of “sociolinguistic justice” (Bucholtz et al. 2014), the SKILLS program aims to counter language-deficit views of minoritized speech varieties. The positive shift in attitudes toward AAE suggests that this goal was achieved, at least in part. These results demonstrate that language attitudes can indeed be transformed by academic intervention.

Third, my data show that even as attitudes towards the three ethnoracially marginalized varieties of English improved, students’ positive evaluations of the hegemonically powerful variety, White California English, remained relatively stable. Opponents of the tradition of “culturally sustaining pedagogy” (Paris 2012; Paris and Alim 2014) fear that the inclusion of non-dominant cultures in curricula will lead to a zero-sum outcome in which the dominant culture is devalued. My findings, however, indicate that culturally sustaining linguistics pedagogy does not necessarily result in “reverse racist” outcomes.

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