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Meet Bonnie J. Williams

Assistant Professor Addresses Language Rights

Jan. 15, 2015

Bonnie J. Williams

Bonnie J. Williams

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Students whose first, or home, language is anything but English need not be discouraged in English class, says Bonnie J. Williams, assistant professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics.
 
Williams, who joined Cal State Fullerton’s faculty in the fall, argues that students who speak other languages or social dialects such as “Spanglish,” a combination of Spanish and English, or “ebonics,” can learn standard English without having to completely disregard their home language.
 
“Students, especially students from different language backgrounds who are not exposed to standard English at home, communicate differently verbally and in writing,” Williams said, adding that her research delves into language rights. “In my class for future English teachers, I express that these students can learn the language without eradicating their home language.”
 
In other words, she said, students have the right to maintain their home language practices. In her “English Language in America” course, she teaches her students how to create curriculum that takes into account myriad social and regional dialects.
 
As part of the course, Williams assigns a final project in which the students form groups and produce innovative curriculum ideas.

“The students came up with unique projects,” Williams said. One group presented a board game for a hypothetical high school English class in which students would roll a die and land on different regions of the country. As part of the game, players take part in speaking in different dialects.
 
As a result, she and a few of her students, now are working on a proposal to present the final projects at a national conference next year.
 
Williams, who is known to her students as Dr. Bonz, lives in Fullerton. She earned a doctorate in rhetoric and writing from Michigan State University, a master’s degree in African and African American studies from Ohio State University, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism and African American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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