I've been working with some of my fellow grad students here at UIUC to put on workshops for teachers and students at local schools here in Chambana (shout out to Itxaso, Farzad, Staci, Kate and Anita for help on this particular workshop). Our first workshop was about language attitudes. What are language attitudes you ask? Okay - rather than tell you - I'm gonna make you do the same thing the teacher's did. This isn't a test and you won't be judged for your answers. The only thing you have to do to pass is NOT SCROLL ALL THE WAY DOWN!
Instructions: The following four audio files are taken from four different women all of whom were on a panel at TED. After playing each clip, rate the speakers on the following scales.
Okay if you've finished rating all the speakers you can scroll now!
So the big reveal is...
...those were actually all clips from the same speaker. She's an actress named Sarah Jones and I'll tell you more about her in a bit.
The activity you just completed is a "Matched Guise Test" and was invented by sociolinguist William Lambert in 1967 to quantify the attitudes that one group of people had towards the language of another group of people. Just like in this test - the speaker that the participants are listening to is really just one speaker, but they are told that s/he is multiple speakers.
Sociolinguists are very interested in the ways that people judge other people based on their language. But we all care about this in reality, because we all feel the reality of judging other people and being judged ourselves for the language that comes out of our mouths. I have a hankering that the reason this judgment comes about has to do in part with identity - something that I'll be talking more about in other workshops. For now I'll leave you with what Sarah Jones says about identity and the different ways that she speaks.
During her talk at TED she says that her characters are based on her own friends and family and that she does this performance piece because she is "interested in the invention of self or selves". She says" We're all born into certain circumstances with a particular physical traits, unique developmental experiences, geographical and historical contexts. But then what? ...How do we self-identify and how mutable is that identity?"