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Episode 11 - How We Talk

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Eighth grade is the important time in life. You’ve just been through some rough social times. Your body is a nightmare. And high school is looming. But this age is important for another reason. It’s when the next generation of language change is formed. The kids who file in and out of classrooms and lunchrooms and bus stops have this power. And also, this stress.

Students file out of class.
Photo by Raymond Thompson Jr.
For this episode of Sparked, we go into a classroom in rural northern West Virginia where two researchers from West Virginia University are comparing how language changes in the state, looking at rural versus town and northern versus southern.

You’ll learn a lot of facts: Language is ever-changing. And how you judge others’ language says more about bias than reality. And Appalachian dialects don’t work how you think.

And then there’s feelings. These girls know what you may think about their speech. They know what their friends in the same county think about how they talk. And they want to change. But how is this pressure affecting them?

Kirk Hazen
Photo by M.G. Ellis.
Kirk Hazen is professor of linguistics and director of the West Virginia Dialect Project. Since 1998, he’s been studying dialects in Appalachia. His research debunks a lot of myths about the region and just language in general. 

Audra Slocum
Photo by M.G. Ellis.
Audra Slocum is assistant professor of English Education and co-director of the National Writing Project at WVU. She was a teacher in rural Kentucky after growing up in the midwest. And she learned a lot about how teachers can push students to become what they are not in the name of meeting a mythic standard of language. 

We want to thank Audra Slocum and Kirk Hazen as well as the students interviewed in this podcast and their school. 

This episode was recorded and produced by Raymond Thompson Jr. and Diana Mazzella. Sparked is a production of WVU Magazine. Tell us what you think of this podcast at and help others find us by rating and reviewing on Apple Podcasts.