Democracy and Dialect


Session Outline
• • • • • • • Definitions: dialect and standard English Language instruction in the classroom The value of dialect Dialect and identify Principles for addressing dialects Strategies for addressing dialects Discussion

• What is dialect?
– a provincial, rural, or socially distinct variety of a language that differs from the standard language – Definition of a language as “a dialect with an army and a navy”

• What sorts of dialect do we encounter?

Complexities of Standard English
• What is standard spoken English? • What is standard written English? • What do individual teachers mean by standard English? • Is standard English “better” than variant forms? • What are the motivations to teach standard English
– Democratic: access to the language of wider communication – Authoritarian: maintain purity of language

Roots of Traditional Ideas of Correctness
• • • • Natural linguistic xenophobia Language and the Enlightenment Basing English on Greek and Latin models Assumption English is in a state of decay

The War Between Traditionalists and Linguists
• Towards a “purified” English: Jonathan Swift, Robert Lowth, Lindley Murray, John Simon, William Safire • Towards an “inclusive” English: Samuel Johnson, Noam Chomsky, Webster’s Third, Steven Pinker, • Language study typically has been a narrow approach focused on standard forms

Dialect and Identity
• Standard English is not superior to other dialects • Language is intrinsically rooted in the identity of the speaker and community • Devaluing language devalues the speaker and the community • Linguistic diversity is closely connected to a diverse democracy

Students Right to their Own Language
• We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language – the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language

Do You Speak American?
Origins of black dialect,effects 40 min – 51 min

Dialect in Literature
• Dialect is fundamental • The power of the vernacular, particularly in American Literature • The power of dialect, not only to represent voice, but to convey new ideas

American Writers on Dialect
• Language, be it remembered, is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionarymakers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground – Walt Whitman • The first requisite and rule is that expression shall be vital and natural. The grammarian is often one who can neither cry nor laugh, yet thinks he can express human emotions – Henry David Thoreau

From Middlemarch
“Are you beginning to dislike slang, then?” “Only the wrong sort. All choice of words is slang. It marks a class.” “There is correct English: that is not slang.” “ I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays.”

From Huckleberry Finn
• Pretty soon it darkened up and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain, and it rained like all fury, too, and I never see the winds blow so. .. tree-tops a-plunging about, away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you’d hear the thunder let go with an awful crash and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty barrels down stairs, where it’s long stairs and they bounce a good deal, you know.

Principles: an effective language program…
• • • • • • • Respects the home language – the object is to gain mastery in another dialect Teaches standard English in context Separates grammar from usage Is based on student interests and needs, and requires production of language as well as analysis Responds to language skills demanded by contemporary society Fosters an interest in language Integrates reading, listening, speech, and writing

Teaching Code-Switching
• Examples from Rebecca Wheeler
– S-V Comparison Sheet – Examples of student papers

• The Story of English (2:06-2:11)

Addressing Dialect
• Students create a linguistic autobiography by researching their names, speech patterns and features • Read aloud in class literary selections written in dialect • Compare various literary interpretations of a particular dialect, looking at spelling and variant grammar. • Create skits in which one person tries to communicate with a group using a dialect inappropriate to the situation • Rewrite literary passages written in dialect using standard English. Discuss what is changed or lost in translation • Students describe the grammatical rule systems for their dialect and compare and contrast those with standard English