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Cognition Within a Multidialectal Frame: Investigating Sociolinguistic Knowledge of African American English

Abstract: African American English (AAE) is the most well-studied minoritized variety of English in the U.S., yet there is still so much we do not know about cognitive processing of the variety. Understanding the mechanisms of AAE cognition is critical to building models of language that include how multiple linguistic systems live in the brain. Additionally, this understanding is crucial in our current sociopolitical climate in the United States in which linguistic prejudice and discrimination continues to persist (Craft, Wright, Weissler, & Queen 2020). This talk will focus on neurolinguistic research and emotional prosody behavioral research, which work in parallel in the construction of a cognitive model of AAE. The EEG studies show that AAE is processed differently than Standardized American English (SdAE), because it shows that predictions are conditioned by the identity of the speaker. The emotional prosody research shows that emotional prosody does influence race judgements, and still, there are some discrepancies between behavioral judgements and written responses from participants. Taken together, these studies indicate that language variety impacts processing, but also raises questions about the role of the participant and leveraging linguistic knowledge during processing. This work contributes to further understanding of how social information and stereotypes interface with cognitive processing within a multidialectal frame.

Bio: Rachel Elizabeth Weissler is a Ph.D. Candidate in Linguistics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She studies at the intersection of neuroscience and sociolinguistics, particularly how varied linguistic knowledge modulates processing of standardized and minoritized American Englishes, specifically African American English. Using electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate cortical processing of linguistic anomalies, her primary research is conducted at the Computational Neurolinguistics Lab at the University of Michigan.

Event Details

  • Matt Pearson
  • August Bicket
  • Samiya Bashir

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