Dr. Anna Head, Chair of the English and Communications Division at Enterprise State, was recently featured on Journey Proud, Alabama Public Television’s documentary series highlighting the people, customs, and traditions of Alabama. Dr. Head joined host Joey Brackner, Director of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, on a journey around the state exploring differences in language and dialect in different regions.
Dr. Head explained how she first became involved in the field of linguistics.
I believe that I was always interested in language and especially Southern speech, to the degree that I knew that as a native of Alabama that I spoke a salient dialect. However, linguistics was not my concentration as an undergraduate; instead, my focus was literature. It was not until fall semester of my senior year at Auburn University that I took an introductory linguistics course. During that semester and the next, I came to know my linguistics professor, Dr. Robin Sabino, quite well. This occurred for two reasons, the first being a good-natured debate over the Southern pronunciation of two words: feel and fill. While I insisted that I pronounced the words differently, she assured me that I did not. Nonetheless, she was willing to humor me, so she created a list in which the two words were repeated a number of times at random and recorded me reading the list. Needless to say, Dr. Sabino was correct, as we heard no difference in my pronunciation of the words when we listened to the tape. This experience was not only my first lesson in the inherent flaws in human intuition regarding language, but also it permanently piqued my interest in the field of linguistics. Soon after, I signed up for Dr. Sabino’s linguistic fieldwork class, which was conducted on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas over spring break of the next semester. It was on this trip that I caught the “bug” for interviewing people, and it was also on this trip that Dr. Sabino and I first discussed the possibility of me focusing on linguistics and specifically, Southern speech, for my graduate work.
Dr. Head also said that she enjoyed filming and learning more about linguistic characteristics in the northern regions. The two dialect segments of Journey Proud, one focusing on the south and one of the north, may be viewed online at journeyproudalabama.com.
Cutline: Dr. Anna Head, Chair of the English and Communications Division at Enterprise State, and Joey Brackner, Director of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, speaking with Sandra Brown, owner of Brown’s Pottery in Marion County, AL.