Dr. Nathan Sanders on teaching linguistics with equity, diversity and inclusion

by Danica Reid, PhD Student at the Department of Linguistics

April 11, 2023

Sponsored by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), Dr. Nathan Sanders from the University of Toronto visited the Department of Linguistics on March 30th to talk with faculty and students about diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the field of linguistics. In the talk, he introduced the Linguistics Equity Diversity and Inclusion Repository (LEDIR), made in conjunction with graduate students Lex Konnelly and Pocholo Umbal (a former MA student in our department).

Dr. Sanders began the discussion by highlighting the different types of language biases—an important aspect in the field of linguistics where language is constantly at the forefront of teaching and learning.

There were three language-related biases that Dr. Sanders mentioned: external, individual, and systematic. External language biases appear in institutional requirements that evaluate a student’s fluency in formal academic English. Individual language biases are largely unconscious but include common linguistic micro-aggressions such as mispronouncing a student’s name or using incorrect pronouns. Systemic language biases are a feature of the field as a whole. For example, because a majority of research in linguistics focuses primarily on a small number of major languages, other languages tend to be ignored or viewed as odd. Dr. Sanders highlighted in his talk that “if we’re not actively working to combat these biases, we’re helping to perpetuate them.”

For now, the repository includes four main types of resources, with more in development.

The first is The Handbook for Inclusive Linguistics Teaching. This handbook addresses a variety of topics that are relevant for instructors who want to make their classrooms more inclusive. The second available resource is The Diverse Names Database which currently contains 78 names across three gender classifications (all-gender, feminine-leaning, and masculine-leaning). The names come from more than 30 language families and more than 110 countries. This database presents instructors with more than the typical “Mary” and “John” for example sentences in lectures, assignments, and exams. The third resource is a series of datasets that includes exercises on both signed and spoken languages that represent less commonly studied languages. Also part of the repository are lecture notes that can be provided to students about topics that reflect the language-related biases that are prevalent in linguistics and notes on affirming writing that highlight the ways that written material can perpetuate the biases we are trying to overcome.

While already an excellent source of resources for instructors looking to make their classrooms more inclusive, Dr. Sanders plans to add more to LEDIR, including materials for the syntacticians and semanticists among us and more datasets and lecture notes for the various linguistic subfields. He is also currently working with Avery Ozburn, assistant professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, to compile a series of language profiles that linguists can use.

Watch the full video of the lecture here.