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Spotlight on Inclusive Excellence: Dr. Jon Forrest

Dr. Jon Forrest Nominated for Spotlight on Inclusive Excellence

This month, the Linguistics department's Spotlight on Inclusive Excellence will feature Dr. Jon Forrest and his course offering for Fall 2023, Language, Race, & Ethnicity in the U.S. 

Dr. Forrest emphasizes that understanding the relationship between language and race is important educationally as well as personally. In our everyday lives, the linguistic differences that we notice among peers and strangers alike are largely impacted by race. Students from Georgia are intimately familiar with these differences—Georgia houses the most diverse county in the Southeast, and has the 9th highest diversity index in the U.S. as of the 2020 census.

Dr. Forrest’s class seeks to expand on students’ existing knowledge of racialized language and to give them an idea of the breadth of linguistic differences in the US.

Language, Race, & Ethnicity in the U.S. seeks to explore a new and highly dynamic field.

“There’s not really a book on this,” Dr. Forrest explains. Race and linguistics together has become a more widely-studied field only in the past two decades or so.

Although our society and language change over time, Dr. Forrest wants students to ask themselves why, in spite of these changes, our current understanding of racial and linguistic categories still remains? What does it mean to sound white, or to sound black? Why do racial differences tend to jump out when it comes to the way that people speak?

At the beginning of the class, students are asked to create an ethnolinguistic biography of themselves. This project demonstrates that students already are aware of the linguistic differences between themselves and others in their community. Moreover, Dr. Forrest wants students to feel that they are experts on where they come from.

According to Dr. Forrest, “The class is tuned with the knowledge of the students,” and students are encouraged to talk with people in their own communities and families to begin observing and analyzing how race is constantly impacting linguistic difference. Field work does not have to be intimidating, and it can be done at home.

Spurring students on towards field work is just one goal of Dr. Forrest’s for his students. He wishes to introduce a more empirical focus to students’ linguistics observations, and he wants students to focus on what was said as well as how it was said. Above all, his purpose is to have students feel represented and to cultivate an understanding of the wide-reaching impact of race on the way that people speak to and hear each other.



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