FAQs

About the organization

    • What does Language Matters do?
        • Lots of things! Our most outward facing work at this point is events we put on throughout the semester. Our Lightning Talks have been especially popular. We are also compiling resources for faculty, students, and staff interested in learning more about issues of language and linguistic discrimination; performing interviews with community members about dialect, language, and their role in campus (and everyday) life; and making plans for future involvement in different campus orientations. In addition, we have a list of experts who would love to talk to you about any questions or ideas you have about language.
    • Who can be in Language Matters?
        • Anyone with an interest in how language, diversity, social justice, etc. work together on campus
    • I don’t know much about linguistics or studying language. Can I still be involved?
        • Absolutely! No previous linguistic knowledge is required. We welcome people from all disciplines who want to think about language and dialect on campus.
    • How can I get involved?
    • Do you meet regularly?
        • The Steering Committee meets every month to discuss upcoming events and other issues arising. Otherwise, we have events throughout the semester. The best way to stay updated on those is to join our mailing list by emailing umichlanguagematters@gmail.com. If you have an event you’d like to suggest, you can email us with your proposal.

About language and discrimination

    • What is linguistic discrimination?
        • Linguistic discrimination is the unfair treatment of an individual based on their use of language. Because the way we speak or sign signals other identity features, linguistic discrimination can be used as a stand-in for other types of discrimination. This can happen in everyday life as well as in broader systems, like education and housing.
    • Does language change?
        • Yes! If a language isn’t changing, it is dead or dying. English has changed dramatically over the past few centuries. Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales are both written in English, but you’ll likely have to do a bit of translating to understand the Old and Middle English they use.
    • Why does language change?
        • All kinds of reasons! Language change include cultural inventions (Google and googling didn’t exist 30 years ago), social/historical change, and contact with other languages and dialects.
    • Do you have an accent?
        • Yes! Everyone has an accent! An accent is just the way someone produces language. The accent that is considered to be “accent-less” is typically a version of the prestige variety of the area, which has a lot of social implications that Language Matters is working to raise awareness of.
    • Some words just aren’t real, right?
        • We’ll let our own Anne Curzan take that one in her 2014 TED talk
    • Why are professors asking for my pronouns now?
        • Check out our sources on pronouns and identity in the “Learn On Your Own” section!
    • How do issues with language and discrimination manifest on campus?
        • A surprising number of ways! Interactions between students, with GSIs, with faculty, and with staff can all be influenced (consciously or unconsciously) by language and people’s attitudes about language. Maybe it’s use of a particular speech stereotype to imitate a group, or a comment about an ESL speaker. The use of particular terms (e.g. singular they) are hot topics on college campuses as well. Unfortunately, language and dialect can also be used as ways to attack someone’s identity, including race, gender, sexual orientation, where they’re from, and more. We are happy to talk more with you about the different ways language and discrimination can show up on campus. You should also feel free to peruse our Learn On Your Own resource section (once it’s ready; it’s currently under construction). It has lots of great info about a variety of related topics in the form of pop media articles, videos, and academic papers.