Senior Researches Attitudes Toward English Dialects

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Senior Researches Attitudes Toward English Dialects

A laptop is open to Aumiller's published research. (Courtesy of Catherine Aumiller)

A laptop is open to Aumiller's published research. (Courtesy of Catherine Aumiller)

A laptop is open to Aumiller's published research. (Courtesy of Catherine Aumiller)

A laptop is open to Aumiller's published research. (Courtesy of Catherine Aumiller)

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By Eliot Schiaparelli

Instead of a traditional sociology thesis, Catherine Aumiller, FCRH ’19, is studying the attitudes of college students toward different English dialects.

Aumiller became interested in linguistics after taking an introductory course and now plans to pursue a master’s in the subject.

The university does not have a formal linguistics department, but students can work in the EEG Lab for Language and Multilingualism Research under Sarah Grey, Ph.D.

Grey is Fordham’s only linguistics professor, and Aumiller said she has taken at least four classes with her.

Aumiller started working in Grey’s lab as a junior. With Grey as a mentor, Aumiller formulated a research project that compared the attitudes of college students toward three American dialects: Standard American English, Chicano English and African American Vernacular English.

Chicano English is largely spoken by Mexican Americans, especially in the Southwest. African American Vernacular English is most commonly spoken in Urban Areas. Standard American English is most similar to broadcast English according to Aumiller.

Aumiller said she spent most of the summer before her senior year reading other studies and research on American dialects. In Sept. 2018, she created a survey to conduct her study and formulated a three-pronged hypothesis.

“Participants who speak other languages and grew up in or spent time in racially/ethnically and/or linguistically diverse environments will feel more positively towards all dialects,” she wrote in her hypothesis. “I expect that participants who score high on Extraversion and low on Neuroticism will feel more positively towards all dialects and that participants with high levels of tolerance for ambiguity (TA) will have more positive attitudes towards all dialects.”

Aumiller said her survey is based on research published in 2015 by Dewaele and McCloskey. It collects background biographical information about the person taking the test and asks questions meant to determine the taker’s attitude toward the different dialects of American English.

The person taking the survey is able to play a voice recording from SoundCloud of each dialect and then is asked to make assumptions about the speaker.

They are able to say how intelligent they believe the speaker to be, how likely they would be to associate with the speaker and what they believe the socioeconomic status of the speaker to be by ranking their agreement with statements.

“Once all the data is compiled, I’ll be looking to make correlations between the attitudes toward each language and the socio biographical data,” Aumiller said “So far from what I know now, it isn’t just people answering in the middle on each question. They are showing that they have attitudes either way.”

To ensure that participants in the survey understand what they are doing, they are asked to say what they believe the dialect to be after listening and answering questions.

Aumiller and four other senior ‘s working in Grey’s lab all received FCRH research grants for their projects. Aumiller said her mentor helped her create the project by sending her studies over the summer.

“If you’re not sure what you want to be researching it really helps to talk to a mentor,” she said. “And then once you have a good relationship with your mentor that really helps a lot if you have any uncertainties and they also make really helpful suggestions. So, it’s all about the mentor.”

Aumiller also works alongside Grey on four psycholinguistic projects in the EEG lab. Those studies include everything from “Semantic and Grammar Processing in First and Second Languages” to “Learning French as a Second Language.”

Aumiller compiles data on her survey weekly but has not yet analyzed it. The survey will be up on SONA, the psychology department’s survey portal, until Feb. 8 so that Aumiller can submit her findings to the Fordham Undergraduate Research Journal in March.

After she graduates and gets a master’s degree, Aumiller said she hopes her research background will help her influence policies surrounding linguistics or do more research.