Relating How language processing impacts the construction of social identities for speakers of African American English

This project focuses on the study of language and its relation to social identities. It is well known that language reveals properties of how the human mind works and how speakers build and maintain social identities. Traditionally, these two domains of research have been pursued independently. The current project bridges this gap with an experimental investigation of how language processing impacts the construction of social identities for speakers of African American English.

This project will investigate how language processing interacts with other cognitive systems such as memory. Much research has shown that language processing relies on memory access to relate the words and phrases in a sentence. This project will specifically analyze how properties of African American English (AAE) impact how its speakers access different linguistic information in memory. The researchers will be zeroing in on subject verb agreement in African American English and how AAE speakers use the mental strategies (i.e cognitive processes such as memory) to process subject verb agreement during language comprehension compared to other English speakers. Recently, many studies in psycholinguistics have investigated the memory retrieval operations used to process subject-verb agreement. However, the vast majority of those studies have focused on the properties of standard American English. It is well-known that African American English diverges from standard American English with respect to subject-verb agreement in a number of different ways. We hypothesize that those differences might impact how speakers of African American English encode and navigate linguistic information in memory. We will investigate this hypothesis using traditional psycholinguistic methods and will relate our findings to broader concerns about the social identities of speakers of African American English and the treatment of African American English in education.