Profiling by dialect

Luckily for society — but maybe not for NASCAR —John Baugh put the brakes on a career in auto mechanics and turned his attention to the study of linguistics.

“When I was first entering school, I was going to be a math major, to appease my parents, and an auto shop minor,” says Baugh, Ph.D., the Margaret Bush Wilson Professor in Arts & Sciences, professor of psychology and director of the African & African American Studies program, both in Arts & Sciences. “I wanted to work on cars.”

Though he owns a shiny blue, mint-condition 1958 Chevrolet pickup truck that he tinkers with, Baugh, a renowned linguistics expert and author of “Beyond Ebonics: Linguistic Pride and Racial Prejudice,” focuses on examining how we talk and the ways we sometimes judge others based on the sound of their voice.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Baugh’s fascination with language grew in part just from observing the linguistic differences around him.

“The first part of my life in New York and Philadelphia was spent in primarily African-American communities,” Baugh says. “I observed a great deal of diversity there. I could tell the language used in church was very different from the language teenagers used on the street, and that, in turn, was different depending on someone’s relative education.”

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