Engaged Research

Language is one of our most basic human characteristics—using language is something we all do, all the time, every day. But there isn’t just one linguistic code that we use. Rather, language is a nuanced, complex social tool, naturally evolving over time and changing for different circumstances. The ways people use language reflects their cultures and identities, and can also indicate social boundaries and social divisions.

The overarching theme central to all aspects of my work is my commitment to applying interdisciplinary knowledge to address social inequalities, advance cultural and linguistic equity, diversity, and inclusion, and broaden access and participation at all levels of education, especially for historically underrepresented and underserved groups.

My research touches on three main themes:

  • the significance of language to social justice, from theory to action,
  • the centrality of language to social opportunities as well as inequalities,
  • the importance of ethical principles and methodological innovation in the study of language in its social context.


I am the co-author, with Dr. Anne H. Charity Hudley of Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools (2011) and We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom (2014). A third book, Talking College, will be available in late 2021. Anne and I also deliver a professional development series, “Language in the Classroom,” that brings researchers and educators together to explore language, culture, and educational inclusion in classrooms and schools.

I am the prior Chair and a continuing member of the Linguistic Society of America Ethics committee; in this capacity, I spearheaded a two-year process to comprehensively revise the LSA ethics statement, approved July 2019. With Anne H. Charity Hudley, I also co-lead-authored the LSA’s inaugural Statement on Race, approved May 2019, and co-wrote papers for a related special issue on racial justice and anti-racism in linguistics in the flagship journal Language, December 2020.

I am also the co-editor of Data Collection in Sociolinguistics: Methods and Applications, with Drs. Becky Childs and Gerard Van Herk (second edition, 2018, Routledge) and the co-editor of Rural Voices: Language, Identity, and Social Change across Place, featuring contributions by authors across the fields of linguistics, sociology, and anthropology (2018, Lexington Books).

I am also thrilled to share news about my new three-year collaborative NSF grant, “Linguistic Production, Perception, and Identity in the Career Mobility of Black Faculty in Linguistics and the Language Sciences.” Funded by NSF’s Build & Broaden programAnne Charity Hudley and I are convening a stellar network of Black scholars in linguistics and the language sciences from MSIs and PWIs across the country to jointly produce and expand research and inclusion work in our fields. Here is the official summary of the project:

This mixed-methodological study examines how Black faculty in the language sciences and related areas linguistically navigate their professional experiences. Black faculty are skilled at navigating between varieties of English, with strong perceptual linguistic abilities and linguistic flexibility. At the same time, linguistic inequalities may cause Black faculty to experience the structural realities of racism through the continuous evaluation of their language. These findings will yield insight into how language discrimination plays a role in the systemic underrepresentation of Black scholars in academia and how language plays a role in those processes. The study also examines professional inequalities for Black scholars in the language sciences and related areas to provide precise data that language researchers can use to broaden participation in linguistics departments and programs.

The study uses a community-based participatory approach that includes ten junior and mid-career scholars from Minority Serving (MSIs) and Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) as research partners. The study uses interviews, focus groups, and survey to reach additional 100 Black faculty. The main questions that the study asks are: How and when do Black faculty in linguistics and the language sciences use Black language practices in higher education? How has their linguistic use affected their academic participation and career mobility? The study tests and refines the linguistic model of language subordination by measuring the impacts of both structural and internalized racism on language choice. The study builds on the Co-PI’s prior work that examined the linguistic choices of Black undergraduates by analyzing how students variably express racial identity while navigating linguistic expectations in academic settings. This study will take a similar approach, incrementally extending theoretical and empirical models to address these dynamics facing Black faculty, adding much-needed nuance to the model regarding Black scholars while testing the applicability of linguistic models used in education to adult professionals.

View my academic CV for a complete list of my research and professional activities: