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William Labov's 2009 Haskins Prize Lecture Published


The American Council of Learned Societies is pleased to announce the publication of the 2009 Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture by William Labov.  Entitled  “A Life of Learning: Six People I Have Learned From,” the lecture is distinctive in both form and content.  Dr. Labov, professor of linguistics and director of the Linguistics Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, presents the voices and stories of six Americans who exemplify, with power and precision, the new developments in the English language that he has studied. The lecture is presented in text with audio highlights here; an audio file of the complete lecture is also available. 

As the 2009 Haskins Prize lecturer, Professor Labov joins a distinguished list of scholars (see www.acls.org/pubs/haskins). Established in 1982 by former ACLS President John William Ward, the series honors the ACLS tradition of commitment to scholarship and teaching of the highest quality. The lecture is delivered at the ACLS Annual Meeting and subsequently published in the ACLS Occasional Paper series.

In her introduction at the lecture, ACLS President Pauline Yu said, “Professor Labov’s work exemplifies the qualities often found in the most enduring achievement of all scholarship: it is at once complex and rigorous, but also deeply consequential.” His research on nonstandard vernacular, most notably that of African-American children, counters the misguided theory that (in his words) “every natural utterance of the child [is] evidence of his mental inferiority and that the speech of working class people is merely a form of emotional expression, incapable or relating logical thought."

Professor Labov began his university studies in linguistics with “the belief that working people have a lot to say.” In his lecture he introduces us to six people he has, as he puts it, “met in the course of this work.”  Though others might view them as research subjects, to Labov these individuals are teachers; their narratives and words live with him.  It is our pleasure to bring their voices to a wider audience. 




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