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Researchers study negative impacts of dialects and accents at UNC

Katya Pertsova, professor in the linguistics department and one of the researchers on this study, said she wanted to assess the climate of linguistic issues in academic adversity.

“We were just interested in what UNC students think about this,” Pertsova said.

Amy Reynolds, graduate student in the linguistics department, said the questions on the survey were based on student background, perception of language and academic performance.

Pertsova said the researchers approached the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs about including linguistic diversity in the diversity trainings on campus.

“The questions that we got from them were ‘is this even an issue?’ and ‘can you show us that this is an issue?’ so we wanted to find out,” Pertsova said.

Pertsova said she hopes to raise awareness and start a conversation about linguistic diversity.

“Linguistic profiling is just as important as racial and cultural profiling because linguistics is just a marker of identity,” she said. “It’s totally acceptable to judge someone on the way they speak but it’s not acceptable to judge someone on their skin color.”

Becky Butler, multilingual writing specialist at The Writing Center, said they are gathering information from faculty about their opinions regarding linguistic norms.

“Hopefully by the end of this we can provide them with helpful strategies that they can use, like if an instructor feels like this is an issue just to be very explicit at the beginning of the semester about what their values are about linguistic diversity,” Butler said.

She said they are not finished analyzing the survey, but they have some preliminary stats. She said about 22 percent of the responders identified as a non-standard speaker of English and speakers of southern dialects were most likely to experience negative effects.

One of the main negative impacts a non-standard dialect can have on academic performance is feeling afraid to speak in class.

Butler said worrying about being judged is a problem everyone has to deal with in the world. She said students mentioned backhanded compliments they receive about their dialects such as “Oh, your accent is so cute!” and “I’m so surprised you speak so well despite where you grew up.”

“This is something that’s an actual problem for a lot of students that because of their self perception or whatever reason it can negatively impact their performance at UNC,” Butler said.” So to think that we’re in the position to maybe shed a little light on that and the way people think about language, that’s pretty cool.”


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