Social Linguistics of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

North Carolina State University Sociolinguistics professor Walter Wolfram spoke to a group of people at the University of Kansas about the significance on the sociolinguistics of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Wednesday evening.
Wolfram and a group of students conducted an analysis over how Dr. Martin Luther King’s linguistics changed when talking to various audiences. King was known for his rhetorical prominences, he spoke in different tones depending on who he was talking to. He was raised in Atlanta, and was socialized and schooled with black people. King was ethnically defined as a southern, black man. Wolfram and his students analyzed four of his speeches and first identified when MLK used –ing and –in in his sentences.
“Using the –ing meant you were more “educated” and was a more formal way to end a sentence. The –in was a more informal way to end sentences and meant you were less educated.” Wolfram said.
In his I Had a Dream speech and Nobel Prize speech, he used –ing in most of the speeches. In both of these speeches he was talking to a mixture of race. It was interesting because when he talked to the group of white people during the Nobel Prize he was speaking in a more formal voice ending his words with –ing. Now when he did his last speech before he got assassinated, he was talking to an African American group and cutting off the –ing and using –in. He was also more passionate and the group was really engaged in his speech. It was like he was comfortable with the people who looked like him. Being raised in the south, changed his way of saying words compared to other people raised in the north for instance.
“He tended to use a tap or drill in most of his speeches he gave, but no one had ever documented his flaps of his “r’s”.” Wolfram said.
In one of his speeches, MLK says, “crying out for brothahood.” The ‘r’s” are absent in some sentences he says, but that depends on which crowd he was talking too. Most people cannot catch the silent r’s. People who have analyzed his speeches say that 80% of his speeches he adds the “r”. They say that it is a “preaching” style but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the only way a preacher can sound.
People all have accents whether they are from the south or the north. Coming to a University, there are people from all over the country and feel judged if they speak up in a class. It is a big issue that needs to bring brought upon on college campuses. How you speak adds a barrier in a social academic center. Going to the Diversity Center, they focus on sexuality issues, and racial issues, but they don’t have a language issue.
“I try to get a lot of my students to think about of the beliefs and attitude they have about language varieties and how the impact intersects with other forms of inequality.” Audience member Philip Duncan said.

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