“Ain’t Ain’t a Word”: Stigma Against Southern Speech in the Classroom Open Access

Dempsey, Shawna (Spring 2021)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/4t64gp218?locale=en


This research explores whether teachers’ prior experience with a student’s dialect influences grading outcomes. Specifically, I am interested in how negative language attitudes about Southern American English affect how teachers grade students who speak this variety as compared to “standard”-sounding students. This question stems from the nature of the education system as a language authority, which plays a crucial role in spreading standard language ideology (Lippi-Green, 2012). As such, studying the implicit biases that these authorities exercise toward students who speak with non-standard dialects when providing feedback is crucial for equity in the education system. In this study, participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: Southern accent or standard accent. Participants evaluated two student assignments, a student presentation and an essay. First, participants observed a student presentation with all variables held constant except the student’s accent, which reflected the condition to which participants had been assigned. Participants then provided feedback regarding the presentation. Then, all participants evaluated and graded a student essay (identical between conditions) on an unrelated topic, which was explicitly attributed to the student presenter. The feedback and grades of each assignment were then compared between conditions. Moreover, grader comments were analyzed to further understand the grades administered. While the grades were not statistically different between conditions, Southern condition grades varied more widely than standard condition grades. This result demonstrates the lack of consensus that Southern condition graders had as compared to standard condition graders. These results are discussed in light of educator characteristics and research design. Practical implications are also discussed. 

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction 1

Standard Language Ideology 3

Language Attitudes 5

Southern English as ‘Other’ 6

SLI in the Classroom 7

Chapter Two: Methods 13

Participants 13

Materials and Methods 16

Demographic Survey 16

Student Presentation 16

Student Presentation Feedback Form 18

Student Essay 18

Student Essay Rubric 19

Design 19

Procedure 20

Data Analysis 21

Chapter Three: Results 22

Student Presentation 22

Grader Ratings 22

Grader Comments 24

Student Essay 29

Grader Ratings 29

Grader Comments 30

Language Experience 37

Academic Department 39

Individual Grading Differences 39

Chapter Four: Discussion 42

Variation in Southern Grades 42

Student Presentation 44

Grader Experience 45

Grading Across Disciplines 46

Practical Implications 47

References 49

Appendix A: Demographic Survey 52

Appendix B: Student Presentation Feedback Form 53

Appendix C: Student Essay Rubric 54

Appendix D: Tables 55

Appendix E: Figures 56

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files