Tracey L. Weldon is an Associate Professor in the English Department and the Linguistics Program at the University of South Carolina, where she currently serves as Associate Dean for Diversity, Interdisciplinary Programs, and Social Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. She earned her PhD from The Ohio State University in 1998. Weldon is a sociolinguist, specializing in varieties of American English, with a particular focus on African American English and Gullah. Her current book project, under contract with Cambridge University Press, examines the use of African American English by middle class speakers. Weldon is also an Associate Producer of “Talking Black in America,” which was executive produced by Walt Wolfram and the Language and Life Project at North Carolina State University.

The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

When did you first join the LSA? 1993.

How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?

I have attended and presented at several LSA conferences and am currently serving my 2nd stint as Chair of the Committee on Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics (CEDL). My first stint was in 2004 and 2005.

What are you currently researching/working on?

I am finally wrapping up production on my book manuscript on Middle Class African American English, which will be published by Cambridge University Press. This book is intended to provide a broad look at the use and evaluation of African American English by middle-class speakers. It begins with an overview of the development of the African American middle class and the role that language has played in this development. And it proceeds with chapters focused on public performance, camouflaged features, and language attitudes. There is also a very personal chapter in the book that explores my own codeswitching/styleshifting strategies as a middle-class speaker of African American English. Those who know my work are, undoubtedly, aware of how long it has taken me to finish this project.  In the time since I started working on this book, the field and the world have changed considerably. But it is a topic that has remained underexamined in linguistic circles and one that I hope will still resonate with readers in the field and perhaps even pique the interest of non-linguists.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

I will probably get in trouble for picking a favorite and, in reality, I have many. But I will be eternally grateful to John R. and Russell J. Rickford for Spoken Soul (Wiley, 2000). It is the main text that I use when I teach my undergraduate course on African American English (AAE). I appreciate it for its accessibility, particularly for readers who are new to linguistics, many of whom come to the topic with tons of misperceptions about language in general and about African American language in particular. Spoken Soul addresses these misperceptions in ways that are thoughtful, thought-provoking, and informative, and leave the reader with no choice but to re-evaluate their pre-conceived biases. For similar reasons, Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes’ American English (Blackwell) and Rosina Lippi-Green’s English with an Accent (Routledge) are also staples in my undergraduate classes.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?

I fear that many of us will be fighting for survival as the rising cost of college tuition and the demand for degrees that offer a direct path to employment are forcing many lesser known/understood disciplines out of the academy. As an administrator tasked with overseeing interdisciplinary teaching and research at my home institution, I have become all too aware of the importance of making what we do make sense to students and parents as well as to those outside of academia who wonder what linguistics is. Linguists have so much to contribute to society and not just in college classrooms. We have to continue to find effective ways to promote the work that we do so that the field can continue to thrive.

How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?

I first became interested in linguistics, and in sociolinguistics in particular, because of its commitment to the study of African American English, which has been recognized as the most well-researched variety of American English (Schneider 1996). Whether intentionally or not, this research, and research on the languages of other ethnic minority groups, is probably largely responsible for bringing many scholars of color into the field. In recent years, however, this kind of research has become more marginalized in mainstream linguistic circles, finding its niche, instead, in more specialized venues. Such trends are problematic, however, if we strive to achieve breadth and diversity, not only in terms of what we study, but in terms of who we are. I am a firm believer that we are strengthened by our diversity. I, therefore, hope that the field of linguistics will continue to be a welcoming place for linguists of all backgrounds.

What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members?

Information and updates…about conferences, funding and job opportunities, publications, and the recognition of important achievements and milestones reached by members of the linguistics community. To the field? As the umbrella organization for our field, the LSA brings together the many and varied subfields of linguistics, both virtually, through its web presence, and physically, through the meetings and institutes that it hosts, some of which include participation by members of our sister societies. It is important that we maintain this interaction and engagement so that we don’t become so siloed in our own subdisciplines.