Grant TypePost PhD Research Grant
Institutional AffiliationColorado, Boulder, U. of
Grant numberGr. 10073
Approve DateApril 8, 2021
Project TitleHall, Kira (Colorado, Boulder, U. of) "Accent Imitation on the Autism Spectrum"
The proposed project investigates a linguistic phenomenon noted in descriptions of autistic symptoms: the prolonged and often fluent adoption of non-local or “foreign” dialect features. Although this behavior is widely discussed in autistic community groups, it has yet to be handled seriously in academic scholarship. The dialect patterns appropriated by these individuals may be interpreted as remarkably accurate, leading them to at times be perceived as native speakers of a language variety they could not have acquired from family or immediate community. For linguistic anthropologists who view second dialect acquisition as a difficult social achievement importantly related to identity, this practice presents a paradox: How do individuals associated with a purportedly “asocial” syndrome accomplish an activity that is by all accounts intensely social? Drawing from ethnographic interviews with speakers on the autism spectrum who characterize themselves as having an accent, this study examines how autistic individuals understand, navigate, and cultivate their own atypical language practices. More specifically, it hypothesizes that the adoption of non-local accents may be understood as socially strategic imitation, whereby autistic individuals draw from non-local spacetimes and associated language ideologies to access forms of intimacy and social meaning otherwise unavailable to them due to their communicative differences.