Calico Ducheneaux is Lakota, from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. She grew up riding horses across the prairie, chasing her many cousins, and playing music late into the night with her extended family. The solid foundation fostered by her family and community made Calico feel ready to do something completely new and different—to attend Stanford University hundreds of miles from home. Now in her senior year, Calico studies linguistics and focuses on Native American English with hopes of doing more work on Indigenous languages.
Shared identity amongst Sovereign Nations?: A perception study of Native American English (NAE)
Advisors: Katherine Hilton, Rob Podesva
What is the focus of your current research?
My research focuses on Native American English (NAE), also referred to as “rez accents.” There’s been work on specific regional rez accents, but recent scholarship argues that certain prosodic features in English are being recruited to index a pan-regional, pan-Native identity. I’m curious about people’s perceptions of NAE—specifically, can Native and/or non-Native listeners reliably identify Native speakers by voice alone? From there, I'll investigate the linguistic features used by these reliably-identified Native speakers. Finally, the origins of NAE interest me; what kinds of events, movements, or activities have facilitated this pan-Native identity being expressed through language?
What drew you to this topic?
Growing up on a reservation, we always talked about our rez accent. But then, coming to Stanford, I realized that other Native students out here sounded like home to me. This struck me as odd given the huge breadth of Native experience present in the Stanford Native community and beyond. However, Native people often do share a sense of identity and pride, and the reflection of this through language drew me to the field of linguistics more generally.
How are you conducting your research?
I’ve created a survey in which both Native and non-Native participants listen to audio clips of Native and non-Native speakers. They are asked to identify the region and then ethnicity of the speaker. After completing this process with 10 different audio clips, they will then answer questions about their own demographics.
What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?
I think people would be surprised to know how much rez accents and the notion of a pan-regional rez accent is talked about, but how little is actually known about it. There’s loads of metalinguistic commentary on the topic, and Native-made media utilizes and comments on “rez accents.” However, unlike other dialects of English like African American English and Chicano American English, there’s very little known about Native American English.
In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
Indigenous identity in North America is complex, yet Indigenous people are often othered into a homogeneous group. While this notion of a common Native identity can be harmful and diminish the rich complexity of Native experience, there is some merit to it. Tribal Nations have worked collaboratively to advocate in the political sphere, maintain their cultures and traditions, and often do share a sense of Native identity and pride. This collaboration takes place amid a backdrop of erasure as they fight back against a loss of culture–particularly, a loss of heritage language.
How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?
Finding linguistics and beginning my own research has completely altered how I move at Stanford; I used to never talk to my professors and only make friends in class to complain about tough deadlines. Now, I have a real community of peers and mentors that I look forward to learning with and from. I find myself looking forward to classes and conversations with the hopes of gaining more insight for my thesis. The practical application of school doesn’t stop at my thesis—what's even more amazing is that all of this feels important and relevant to me, my home, and my people.
How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?
Prior to this opportunity, I didn’t know what a fellowship was. Prior to my thesis, I didn’t know that undergrads could do research. Prior to coming to Stanford, I didn’t know about elite institutions. All of this is to say that this whole experience—leaving my home and trying to answer big questions—is new to me. I think this fellowship will support my research in more ways than I have time to type; but specifically, I am looking forward to learning from people’s experiences with research, navigating institutions, and from the things that make them passionate enough to ask big questions, too.