University of Pittsburgh’s First Black Linguistics Ph.D. Urges Others to Study African Languages to ‘Avoid Perpetual Fallacies’ of Black Culture

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Courtesy of Adrienne Washington
Courtesy of Adrienne Washington

A Black woman from Hampton Roads, Virginia is the first African-American student at the University of Pittsburgh to earn a doctorate degree in linguistics. Adrienne Washington received her Ph.D. from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences May 1.

Before enrolling in the master’s program, she graduated from Hampton University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. She later enrolled at Pitt for her master’s degree in linguistics, which she earned in 2010.

“I took my first linguistics class after reading the course syllabus and learning that one of the topics on the curriculum would be the Gullah language variety spoken in the Lowcountry,” Washington told Atlanta Black Star.

Her familial relationship to the southeastern coastal area is what inspired her to decide on the major.

“My maternal family is Gullah, so I felt an intrinsic connection to the content of that course and decided to enroll. Ultimately, it was a large part of what motivated me to pursue graduate studies in linguistics.”

Washington studied sociolinguistics for her post-grad degree. While studying the Yoruba language in Brazil, she explored the ways Afro-American communities use language in society.

“I have enjoyed exploring the Afro-Latin interface since my undergraduate days of studying Spanish at Hampton University, so this topic of the Yoruba language in northeastern Brazil was right in line with my research interests.”

Throughout her studies, Washington had, “an awesome village that cheered me on” in the form of her family, including her husband and son, parents, extended family and those she refers to as her “sistah friends.”

The doctorate recipient does not take her position lightly. She believes it is important for other Black linguistics grads like herself to delve into other African forms of speech.

“I think it’s extremely important for people of color to engage in linguistics research and teaching, in general, in order to shape the production and dissemination of that branch of knowledge.”

One of the main reasons she urges other Black students to study the motherland’s language is to eradicate misconceptions and errors in minority communication.

“We can contribute original and unique perspectives to the field to help avoid the perpetuation of omissions or fallacies in research, especially regarding non-dominant and minority language communities.”

Post graduation, the researcher plans to continue studying the same language that she researched at Pitt. She also looks to explore other interdisciplinary sociolinguistic topics. Washington is currently applying to positions in academia “where I see myself best contributing to society.”

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