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Shirley Brice Heath and her Ways With Words. Lauren T hompson. Hannah Joy Saleeby. Ramona Renfroe. Jessica Burlamachi. Alex Lakatos. Brittany Glover. Who is Shirley Brice Heath?. Linguistic Anthropologist. Author, Professor, Researcher, Director. Interests & Specializations.

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Shirley Brice Heath and her Ways With Words



Hannah Joy











Who is Shirley Brice Heath?

Linguistic Anthropologist

Author, Professor, Researcher, Director

Interests & Specializations

Learning environments OUTSIDE of the teacher-led classroom

Oral & written language

Youth development

Race relations

Organizational learning


What has Shirley been up to?

Taught at Stanford University for 20+ years

Holds honorary degrees from Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon University, Stockholm University, and University of London

Currently teaching at Brown University


Where in the world is Shirley Brice Heath?

Mexico Guatemala United States South Africa England Germany Sweden


Heath has 4 major publication areas:

1. Language socialization

3. Youth culture

2. Organizational learning

4. Language planning

Heath’s Focus:

“…to study communitieswho lead entrepreneurial and community building skills while developing and maintaining learning environments that contribute culturally and economically.”


Heath directed the documentary ArtShow

Explores 4 youth-based art organizations:


New York

Rural areas of Kentucky & northern California

“...profoundly illustrates ways in which young people can defy public perception of being vulnerable, apathetic, and

disengaged from productive challenge”.


Ways With Words

Language, Life,andWorkinCommunitiesandClassrooms


Part I:Ethnographer Learning

  • ThePiedmont:Textile mills and times of change

2.Getting’ Onin 2 communities

3. Learning how to talk inTrackton

4. Teaching how to talk inRoadville

5.Oral Traditions




Ethnographer Doing

Part II:

Teachers as learners


Learners as ethnographers


scholarly reviews

Scholarly Reviews

American Anthropological Society:

Word, Martha. Review, American Anthropologist, Vol. 86 No. 4 (Dec.1984), pp. 1047-1048. Web. Nov. 9th, 2010

Chicago Journals:

Miller, Peggy. Review, American Journal of Education, Vol. 94. No. 1 (Nov. 1985), pp. 106-108. Web. Nov. 8th, 2010

Linguistic Society of America:

Feagin, Crawford, Language, Vol. 61. No. 2 (Jun. 1985), pp. 489-493. Web. Nov. 9th, 2010


Ways With Words:

Teachers, don’t forget:

Students who speak another language or who have a different dialect are NONE of the following:

  • Dumb
  • Rude
  • Slow
  • Lazy
this concept may seem simple

This concept may seem simple,

but Heath points out that these are the first reactions that educators have towards ESL, ELL, and students of “other” dialects.


Anthropological Perspective on Ways With Words:

Suzanne deCastell & Tom Walker

* Suzanne deCastell and Tom Walker’s journal article, “Identity, Metamorphosis, and Ethnographic Research: What "Kind" of Story Is Ways with Words?” published in Anthropology and Education Quarterly, focuses on how Heath’s linguistic and ethnographic study of Roadville and Trackton is informative in understanding the cultural aspects behind language development.

* deCastell and Walker praise Heath’s highlighting of Roadville and Trackton’s oral traditions in Chapter 5 - it provides a good example of how young children are able to learn what is and is not a culturally acceptable means of “story telling” in their communities.


More from deCastell & Walker…

* However, deCastell and Walker also point out the issues that students have who have studied the text, regarding Heath’s contributions to the study of language.

Not being able to accept Heath’s study as a project of merit since it did not work.

* They also claim that Heath’s assertion that making beneficial changes to the educational system are not possible.

This made students feel upset at the belief that attempts to make a positive change would be pointless.


Linda Brodkey

  • * Linda Brodkey’s “Writing Critical Ethnographic Narratives” also presents an anthropological perspective on Ways With Words, by claiming that Heath’s use of the “ethnographic present” is crucial in the reader understanding the context of the work.
    • Creates a sense of the here and now in a narrative taken place in the past.
  • * However, Brodkey also does not believe that Heath completely conforms to this concept.
    • Appears as though the “ethnographic present” becomes too much of a story rather than an ethnographic and linguistic account on the language development .

Brodkey continued…

* Meaning Brodkey argues that Heath is merging actual occurrences the with narrative style details.

Believes this can come across as distracting to the reader.

  • * Overall Brodkey deems Heath’s Ways With Words as a work of merit and beneficial to the education of ethnographic and linguistic study.
    • However, in conclusion she argues that ethnographic works such as Heath’s should be written as is and without the element of the typical narrative.

Boys & Girls

  • * Repeated process of aggression, interaction, and unpredictable feedback
    • Live in an uncertain world and they need to know that to “get on”
  • *Tested continually and need to give as good as they get
  • *Responding with aggression is approved; crying is ignored or punished
  • * Trackton demands reciprocity, no submission or you are seen as weak.


  • * Not allowed on the main stage very often
  • * Have to talk to themselves a lot- no other form of interaction available
  • * Older siblings try to help but any help from boys is frowned upon
  • * 2 types of participation
    • Fussing- only way they can show aggression and dominance, even to boys
    • Playsong games
      • Use them to teach babies when adults can’t or won’t
      • Both good and bad subjects

Childhood learning in general:

  • * Must learn many nonverbal signals
  • * Must be able to take on any role the situation calls for
  • * Must know they live in an uncertain world and act accordingly
  • * Words do not matter - signals, tone, and context
  • * Not expected to be information-givers – rather, to take in information by “being keen”
  • * Adults never use or approve of baby talk
  • 3 stages of participation
    • Repetition stage
    • Repetition with variation
    • participation

Baby Talk

  • Such as:
    • Reducing phonological structure of words
    • Substituting easier sounds for more complex ones
    • Reducing inflections
    • Using special lexical items
    • Clarifying features
      • Slowing speech
      • Using special pitch or intonation patterns
      • Substituting names for pronouns

What Adults Really Want Children to Know

  • Ask 5 types of questions to gauge their language and thinking skills
    • Analogy
    • Story-starter
    • Accusation
    • Answer with information
    • Questioner has information
  • Crucial to these questions is the “embeddedness” of interactional contexts
  • Questions are used to gauge what a child knows about what a particular utterance means to the speaker and how it can be interpreted

Scholarly World Response

  • Ethnographies Reviewed
    • “Draws us into their lives with the artistry and
    • finesse of a novelist.”
    • Carefully documented
    • Wonderful research into implications for teachers
  • Quarterly Journal of Speech
    • Comparison to others in field
      • Has a depth and breadth uncommon
      • Manages to balance multiple factors well
      • Praise for her dedication, immersion, and application of findings to teachers
      • Lively style, easy to read yet succinct
  • Journal of Education
    • More concerned with educational implications
    • Patterns of continuity between what children do at home and what goes on at school
    • Focused on analyzing what parents in the book did wrong

Problematic Disciplinary Assumptions

  • Students from a similar geographic area will have similar life experiences.
  • A resistance to reading and writing is a resistance to learning.
  • Dialect differences in the classroom are minor issues.

Ways With Words:An Education Standpoint

  • Socialization
  • Exposure to different cultures
  • Code Switching
  • Responsibilities of the teacher


“When Ways with Words was first published, its final word pointed to the merits of bridging between classrooms and communities in efforts to create opportunities for more students to demonstrate accurately their competence with and through language. The Bridging metaphor remains viable today, but the span of the bridge and the vehicles that cross it will differ.”

“Realignments of time and space, shifts of intimacy and social structures and new sources of entertainment and consumerism have influenced classrooms as much as communities since Ways with Words was first published. Language as both tool and target of socialization reflects these changes deeply and subtly in form, content and use… Exploring creatively the need for social connectedness of institutions, such as schools and youth organizations, as well as the workplace, offers us ways to create and tell new stories. As we do so, we have to acknowledge that what seem limits or losses can be beginnings as well as ending.”