The Sociolinguistic Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Analysis and Implications for Social Justice

Walt Wolfram (North Carolina State University)
Event time: 
Monday, April 8, 2019 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Dow Hall (DOW) See map
370 Temple Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s oratorical status is one of his enduring legacies, and his rhetorical strategies are often cited as a model of performance style. At the same time, few detailed sociolinguistic analyses have been conducted to show how he manipulated particular linguistic variables with different audiences, and the stances he constructed through his manipulation of particular linguistic structures. This presentation examines an array of sociolinguistic variables in Dr. King’s speech in a range of settings to determine how he indexed his regional, social, and ethnic identity at the same time that he accommodated different audiences and interactions. The analysis indicates significant variation of selected variables based on audience while maintaining stylistic stability for others. But there is also a deeper social meaning in Dr. King’s dialect stance. His language performance symbolically embraced ethnolinguistic tradition and transcended linguistic diversity, modeling linguistic equality in action. Using his model, I demonstrate how a program of sociolinguistic justice can be implemented on an institutional level in a way that celebrates the legacy of Dr. King.

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