In a special podcast series, Justin Davidson discusses his research about legitimizing US Spanish and multilingualism in the brain

April 5, 2024

In a special three-part series on Berkeley Voices, Anne Brice interviews Spanish and Portuguese Professor Justin Davidson about his research projects and his quest to legitimize US Spanish, among other efforts. Below you can find all three episodes. 

March 29, 2024: A linguist’s quest to legitimize U.S. Spanish
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Spanish speakers in the United States, among linguists and non-linguists, have been denigrated for the way that they speak, says UC Berkeley sociolinguist Justin Davidson. It's part of the country's long history of scrutiny of non-monolingual English speakers, he says, dating back to the early 20th century.

"It's groups in power, its discourses and collective communities, that sort of socially determine what kinds of words and what kinds of language are acceptable and unacceptable," says Davidson, an associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

But the U.S. is a Spanish-speaking country, he says, and it's time for us as a nation to embrace U.S. Spanish as a legitimate language variety.

April 5, 2024: A language divided
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There are countless English varieties in the U.S. There's Boston English and California English and Texas English. There's Black English and Chicano English. There's standard academic, or white, English. They're all the same language, but linguistically, they're different.

"Standard academic English is most represented by affluent white males from the Midwest, specifically Ohio in the mid-20th century," says UC Berkeley sociolinguist Justin Davidson. "If you grow up in this country and your English is further away from that variety, then you may encounter instances where the way you speak is judged as less OK, less intelligent, less academically sound."

And this language bias and divide can have devastating consequences, as it did in the trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. 

April 16, 2024: One brain, two languages
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For the first three years of Justin Davidson's childhood in Chicago, his mom spoke only Spanish to him. Although he never spoke the language as a young child, when Davidson began to learn Spanish in middle school, it came very quickly to him, and over the years, he became bilingual.

Now an associate professor in UC Berkeley's Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Davidson is part of a research team that has discovered where in the brain bilinguals store language-specific sounds and sound sequences. The research project is ongoing.