Anne H. Charity Hudley :  Fluent in African American

By Valerie Nestor

Anne H. Charity Hudley is a Professor and North Hall Endowed Chair in the Linguistics of African America. (Photo by Christine Fulgham)

Anne H. Charity Hudley is a Professor and North Hall Endowed Chair in the Linguistics of African America. (Photo by Christine Fulgham)

UC Santa Barbara’s recent hire Anne H. Charity Hudley believes linguistics is a discipline that offers insight into one of the most intriguing aspects of human knowledge and behavior: how we use language.

Hudley joined the Linguistics Department where she plans to continue her research into how language variations affect race and ethnicity, and how language use in the classroom affects educational attainment.

She has been named the North Hall Endowed Chair in the linguistics of African-America and she is director of undergraduate research for the College of Letters and Science. Hudley is a co-author of two books that focus on education, Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools and We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom.

In an recent interview, Hudley discussed the intricacies of linguistics in academia and how it all intersects with society.

Q. When and why did you decide to focus your research on language, literacy, and culture of African-Americans?

A. I wove my own interest in it. I love to listen to black people talk, tell jokes, crack on each other, tell stories about stuff that makes you cry. And I love learning languages. That is how it all came together. Research has done a lot with literacy and culture but hasn’t done enough with that language piece.

Q. The book you are currently working on, “Talking College” is a direct research response to a request by your undergraduate advisor, the late Calvert Watkins. How did you and your advisor work together to choose that research project?

A. I’ve wanted to write my book “Talking College” for a long time about how African-Americans negotiate college campuses because we talk different in different spaces. There is a lot of research into that but we don’t know the specifics, as people are acquiring the language of college. My goal is to empower people’s voices. Calvert Watkins said that linguistics in the future is going to be more about helping people and I want to put people on that path now and help them to never be afraid to speak their minds.

Q. Often I find myself unintentionally adjusting my vernacular depending on the audience. Would you consider this form of assimilation a linguistic injustice?

A. Yes, changing the way you talk is the reality of all people so it’s not about ‘Does it happen or not?’ but the magnitude for which it happens for different cultural groups. So we know psycho-linguistically, you are going to accommodate. That is how we learn languages. That is how language is changed — and it is not a negative thing, it’s just how the brain works. But the social conditions of us being black in America makes us do it more. The way that I reframe it, in terms of critique and empowerment, is that we are really multilingual and that’s an asset — especially on a college campus.

Q. Considering the current political and social status of African-Americans and phenomena such as the Black Lives Matter movement, how does your research relate to that? Can you apply your research to dissecting racial discrimination in America?

A. Black Lives Matter is my jam and let me tell you why. I was a grad student at University of Pennsylvania and I was sleeping and the swat team swarmed my house, dragged me out of the bed, grabbed up all my things, and because of a faulty warrant they were convinced I was harboring a fugitive. The whole day, my main goal was not to die as these men held assault rifles at my head. Black Lives Matter, to me, is the embodiment of the worst day of my life and I could have easily been dead. Many don’t understand how this is so pervasive. Historically, in the last generation, black people are just trying to survive. I love this movement because I’ve lived like that for 10 years. It’s a very real situation.

Valerie Nestor is a UCSB Senior in Film and Media Studies.