African American Language (AAL), a term used to capture a range of linguistic varieties spoken by many, but not all African Americans, and some non-African Americans, has syntactic, phonological, semantic, pragmatic, and lexical patterns intertwined with structures of General American English. Prosody, a part of the grammar dealing with the aspects of speech related to stress and melody, is one of the least systematically studied linguistic components of AAL. The interface of prosody with other parts of the AAL grammar is not well-understood. This project responds to an important need to extend linguistic analyses and tools to better understand the prosodic systems at work in AAL and its different varieties.

The project will pioneer inclusive tools and methods capable of reaching a wide range of AAL speakers and communities, combining community-based prosodic fieldwork and large-scale, web-based corpus analysis. Fieldwork sites include an isolated homogenous community in a small town in the Southern U.S., and a heterogenous community in the small city in the Northern U.S. The project adapts standardly-used prosodic fieldwork elicitation tasks to analyze prosodic interfaces with semantics, syntax, and discourse context in language production and comprehension. Psycholinguistic methods to enrich the tasks to explain variation within and across speakers will be incorporated. Experimental design for field- and large-scale web-based production and comprehension studies will also be informed by data-driven computational pattern discovery of how prosodic AAL structures are conveyed on Twitter in written form. Workshops and courses based on data from the grant will be offered at the 2022 Linguistic Society of America (LSA) Summer Institute and the project includes other training and educational opportunities for students from under-represented groups.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Tyler Kendall
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University of Massachusetts Amherst
United States
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