Hillel students wait for the lecture.
On February 13, 2013, 43 middle school students and 4 staff visited MSU's campus to attend a lecture on sociolinguistics. The students, from Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, MI, are participating in a year-long project on language change as part of their language arts classes. The project is led by Jessica Stempek, who is the co-ordinator for language arts in grades 5 to 8. She is also an alumna of Michigan State. During her years at MSU, Jessica took IAH 231c Roles of Language in Society, which at that time was taught by Dennis Preston. She loved it so much that she decided to incorporate language change as a focus in her teaching this year! She reached out to local area professors for support, and MSU's Suzanne Wagner was one of several who responded.
(l-r) James Shaouni, Jessica Stempek, Heidi Little, Suzanne Wagner.
With the help of a CAL-URI grant from MSU's College of Arts and Letters, Wagner recruited two undergraduate assistants. James Shaouni is a Spanish and Education major and Heidi Little is a Linguistics major with a minor in Education. Together, they created classroom materials for Stempek's students, and arranged for the class to visit the class that had inspired Stempek: IAH 231c Roles of Language in Society. Now taught by Suzanne Wagner, the class's focus is on language variation and change across time, space and social groups. On February 13, the topic was language change "from below": language changes that take place without people noticing. These are typically led by groups that are not obviously statusful, but who have local respect. The class looked especially at adolescent peer groups, and their role in propagating change from below. Wagner compared peer groups at Hillel (supplied via an online survey completed by the Hillel students) with peer groups in IAH students' high schools. The Hillel students also reported on the classroom exercises they had completed before arriving at MSU. Later in the spring, Shaouni and Little will travel to Farmington Hills to visit the Hillel students and hear more about their language change projects.
Who we are
We are faculty and students interested in language variation and change at Michigan State University in the departments of Linguistics & Languages, Romance & Classical Studies, Anthropology, Education and beyond.