Linguistic variance in the classroom
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Linguistic Variance in the Classroom. A Presentation by Emily Mullins. Language Variety vs. Intelligence and Competence. Language variety does not correlate with intelligence or competence.

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Linguistic Variance in the Classroom

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Linguistic variance in the classroom

Linguistic Variance in the Classroom

  • A Presentation by Emily Mullins


Language variety vs intelligence and competence

Language Variety vs. Intelligence and Competence

  • Language variety does not correlate with intelligence or competence.

  • Stereotypical associations of certain varieties of English with professional and intellectual competence.

  • One linguistic myth nearly universally attached to all minorities, rural people, the less well-educated, and even the well-educated of some regional varieties is that some varieties of language are not as good as others.

  • Some varieties of a language are more standard than others. This is selected through purely social processes.


Regional differences

Regional Differences

  • Each region has its own social stratification.

  • Every area has a share of both standard and nonstandard speakers.

  • There’s a widespread belief that in the US some regional varieties are more standard than others and some are far from standard (i.e. the South and NY)

  • The evidence of this belief stems from what real people believe about language.


Do you speak american

Do You Speak American?

  • Mean scores of the rankings for ‘correct English’ of the fifty states by south-eastern Michigan respondents (1=worst English; 10=best English)

  • Apparently Michiganders think very highly of ourselves in terms of language and definitely do not think we speak a dialect.


Dialect areas

Dialect Areas

  • To the right a hand drawn map of a Michigan respondent’s idea of the dialect areas of the US

  • What is normal then? Who decides?

  • Boundaries

  • Labels i.e. Hillbillies

  • Linguistic designations: drawl, twang, slang, speed (slow/fast)


Linguistic insecurity

Linguistic Insecurity

  • Southerners suffer from linguistic security

  • They do not rate themselves at the top of the heap as Michiganders do

  • Associate ‘correct English’ with some official or national status

  • Above: Mean scores of the rankings for ‘correct English’ by Alabama students


Pleasant english

Pleasant English

  • Above: Mean scores of the rankings for ‘pleasant English’ by Alabama students

  • Alabama students find theirs the most pleasant

  • Less friendly aspects of speech as move North

  • Both find NYC the least pleasant


Confirming the myth

Confirming the Myth

  • Respondents all over the US confirm the myth that some regions speak better English than others, and the South and NYC are always implicated as being at the bottom of the pile.

  • Stereotypes continue to remain embedded in our culture and in the classroom.

  • Linguistic insecurity in the classroom

  • Belief in superiority or inferiority of different varieties


Dennis preston

Dennis Preston

  • Distinguished Professor of Linguistics

  • Co-director of the 1990 TESOL Institute

  • President of American Dialect Society

  • His work focuses on sociolinguistics, dialectology, and ethnography, and minority language and variety education

  • Revitalization of folk linguistics and perceptual dialectology

  • Published in multiple books focusing on regional differences

  • Wants to reverse the belief that some varieties of language are not as good or standard as others.


Preston interview

Preston Interview

  • EM: How do we show students we value their language, although it may not be as standard as others?

  • DP: Two principle ways--One: Languages always change (ex. Axe, ask, axion). Standard language is not logical. Like mathematical logic, non standard forms still have logic to them. Two: Show people that nonstandard languages are structures and if it is nonstandard, that doesn’t mean it is a breaking of these rules. All language varieties have rules and they are each systematic. They know what they want to say so they must be following the rules.


Interview cont

Interview Cont.

  • EM: Do you have advice for teachers (how to approach dialects, ebonics, AAV, etc)?

  • DP: You have to know something about them. So do the research and know your target audience. Like it’s a really cool idea that if you teach math, you should know math. You want to know their history, the major constructions, etc. Also, you could always hang out with linguists. :)


Interview cont1

Interview Cont.

  • EM: Why do we think the belief that some languages are better than others preoccupies Americans? How does one speak American?

  • DP: One, prejudice, sexism, racism, any of the -isms really. I am this and I have this dialect therefore others are bad, we show that their language isn’t worth much either. There’s a serious devaluing of people. The language itself isn’t ugly. Nonstandard languages are devalued because of the people. Two, language is an ideology. Linguistic prejudices exist because people believe in the stereotypical connotations that are thought to hold.


Interview cont2

Interview Cont.

  • EM: Some kids are linguistically stereotyped, how do we show students their dialect is to be valued?

  • DP: You could have projects that discover rules of nonstandard varieties. Just like a student could be really fast or beautiful, they also have their language to offer. You should engage them in looking at their own language varieties. They could teach other students about their language--discussing the role of rules as mini-instructors. Secondly, students can’t magically speak standard English from the beginning. What they do write or say has to be “accepted”; red ink from teachers is bad and you should discuss the difference in writing based on the audience


Thank you dennis

Thank you Dennis!

  • Dennis wants to remind teachers to remind students that our language expresses out identity and reflects who we are and who we want to be. Language is not something to be ashamed of but something to embrace and to be proud of. If you speak a different dialect, you can know just as much about the English language as the Michigander sitting next to you.


Code switching

Code Switching

  • People who code switch (regularly mixing words or phrases from more than one language within sentences) are thought to be unable to speak the languages very well. (Usually the opposite is true.)

  • Is code switching then okay in the classroom, or is it bad practice?

  • Can you distinguish instances where speakers shift speech styles between AAV and Standard English?

  • Why might a speaker employ one style rather than another?


International students dr matsuda

International Students: Dr. Matsuda

  • Often stigmatized for being different

  • Always should maintain 1st language-directly associated with learning 2nd language

  • Identify those with language needs early on. In-class diagnostic writing. “I want to know what your writing looks like.”

  • Be sensitive to student identity positioning. Is it patronizing to ask them to write about their home or first language? Is their home here now?

  • Use multiple modes of classroom communication

  • Free writing before speak, wait time, multiple examples, articulate evaluation criteria


Debriefing questions

Debriefing Questions

  • Should there be a standard for writing in classes vs. standards for speech?

  • Is the way the teacher speaks, the way all the students should speak?

  • Do minority students feel marginalized by the use of a standard vernacular?

  • Should you change the way you speak as a teacher to reinforce the importance of linguistic variation in students or simply accept other dialects? But is not accepting other dialects a form of monologic discourse?

  • Should we teach writing to include other vernaculars?

  • Why does this matter to the intended audience?


Thank you

Thank you!


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