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Walt Wolfram (born February 15, 1941) is a sociolinguist at North Carolina State University, specializing in social and ethnic dialects of American English. He was one of the early pioneers in the study of urban African American English through his work in Detroit in 1969. Since the 1960s he has authored or co-authored 20 books and more than 300 articles on variation in American English. He was an active participant in the 1996 debate surrounding the Oakland Ebonics controversy, supporting the legitimacy of African American English as a systematic language system. In addition to African American English, Wolfram has written extensively about Appalachian English, Puerto Rican English, Lumbee English, and on many dialects of North Carolina, particularly of rural, isolated communities such as Ocracoke Island.
Wolfram received his B.A. from Wheaton College in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Hartford Seminary Foundation in 1969, studying under Roger Shuy. He has been on the faculty at Georgetown University, the University of the District of Columbia, was the Director of Research at the Center for Applied Linguistics from 1980 to 1992, and in 1992 was named the first William C. Friday Distinguished University Professor of English Linguistics at North Carolina State University. Wolfram is former President of the Linguistic Society of America as well as the American Dialect Society. In 2008, he was honored with the prestigious John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2010, he was awarded the Linguistics, Language and the Public award by the Linguistic Society of America. In 2013, he was awarded the North Carolina Award, the highest award given to a North Carolina citizen. Wolfram's book with Jeffrey Reaser, Talkin' Tar Heel: How our Voices Tell the Story of Story of North Carolina (2014 UNC Press), was the first popular linguistics book to embed more than 100 video and audio clips through the use of QRs.
In 1993, Wolfram formulated the principle of linguistic gratuity, which states that "investigators who have obtained linguistic data from members of a speech community should actively pursue ways in which they can return linguistic favors to the community". He directs the North Carolina Language and Life project at North Carolina State University. He has been involved in the production of television documentaries on dialect diversity (often in collaboration with Neal Hutcheson), the construction of museum exhibits, and the development of dialect awareness curricula for the schools and general public.
- Wolfram, Walt. 1969. Linguistic correlates of social differences in the Negro Community. In James Alatis (ed.), Georgetown Monograph Series on Languages and Linguistics No. 22, 249 57.
- Wolfram, Walt. 1993. Ethical considerations in language awareness programs. Issues in Applied Linguistics 4: 227.
Wolfram, Walt and Jeffrey Reaser. 2014. Talkin' Tar Heel: How our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina. Chapel Hill. University of North Carolina Press.
- Walt Wolfram's homepage at NCSU
- Famous Linguists article on LinguistList about Walt Wolfram
- Interview on WUNC
- Wolfram interview on his educational documentary films
- Wolfram named recipient of the 2008 Caldwell Award for the Humanities from the North Carolina Humanities Council