Trayvon Martin Case to be Addressed in 2017 Freeman Lecture in Linguistics
By Aria Bracci '17 | Thursday, February 9, 2017
Aria Bracci '17
Thursday, February 9, 2017
On Friday, February 17th, the UMass Amherst Department of Linguistics will welcome John Rickford as the speaker for the 2017 Freeman Lecture. With him Rickford brings his expertise on African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and his talk, “Justice for Jeantel (and Trayvon): Fighting Dialect Prejudice in Courtrooms and Beyond.”
Based at California’s Stanford University, Professor Rickford has conducted deep linguistic analysis of the 2012 Florida v. Zimmerman case, building upon his prior decades of linguistic studies. “Professor Rickford is one of the most distinguished and accomplished scholars working on issues related to African American English,” said Seth Cable, professor and head of the UMass Amherst Linguistics Department. “It’s a rare privilege to have him visiting us here at UMass, especially since his home institution is on the opposite side of the country.”
The paper on which the talk is based, co-authored by Sharese King, was recently deemed “Best Paper in Language” by the Linguistic Society of America. “Basically, out of all the papers published in 2016 in the journal Language, perhaps around a hundred or so,” Cable explained, “Rickford and King’s was considered to be the ‘best’ in terms of the quality of its scholarship and the importance of its impact.”
As this talk is grounded in a poignant legal case that spurred national involvement and action, the event appeals to those outside of the Linguistics Department. Cable listed Afro-American Studies; Political Science; Legal Studies; the School of Education; Languages, Literatures and Cultures; Sociology; and Philosophy as departments whose students may take interest. “In addition,” he added, “I think it would also be of interest to certain folks in History, Anthropology, and Psychology, particularly those working on language or social psychology.” This amounts to about 20% of UMass departments, and the list expands as the topic’s relevance grows.
“I think it’s important for UMass and Western Massachusetts to hear this talk since these issues are of importance to us as well,” Cable said. “It wouldn’t be controversial to observe that, while our population is ethnically diverse, negative attitudes and stereotypes about African American English are not uncommon among the white community, as well as simple misunderstandings and misperceptions about the language.”
Cable extends his thanks to Don and Margaret Freeman, as well as others, for the opportunity to host this year’s Freeman Lecture, and community members are encouraged to consider their relation to and place within the discourse it presents. “Having as high profile of a person as Professor Rickford educating us on these issues—issues that, as he discusses, are important to the equitability of our justice system—is a very special opportunity.”
The 2017 Freeman Lecture will take place on Friday, February 17 at 2:30 P.M. in room N151 in the Integrative Learning Center. This event is free and open to the public.