Academic journal article Scottish Language

Dialect in the Modern Languages Classroom: A Bidialectal Approach

Academic journal article Scottish Language

Dialect in the Modern Languages Classroom: A Bidialectal Approach

Article excerpt


Non-Standard Dialect in the Classroom

With the publication of Non-Standard Speech and the Teaching of English (Stewart, 1964a), debates over how to teach children who primarily speak in a non-standard dialect came to the forefront of educational concerns. Stewart noted that the linguistic distance between standard English and certain dialectal variants was greater than had been taken for granted: 'there may be cases where the structural relationship between standard English and varieties of speech which are sociologically accepted as mere substandard variants of it are in fact reminiscent of foreign language relationships' (Stewart 1964b: 6). Because of the general lack of understanding of non-standard dialects among educators and dismissive attitudes towards non-standard language in the classroom, school pupils who did not primarily speak in standard English were often at a disadvantage and were performing poorly compared with their standard-speaking peers. In Stewart's publication, the non-standard dialect most focussed upon was African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), detailing its use in Chicago (Pederson 1964). (On AAVE see Krapp 1924, Bailey 1966, Bailey 1982, Rickford 1999, Wolfram 2006: 214-5.)

William Labov's research on AAVE in schools provides evidence of how pupils who speak primarily in this non-standard dialect were performing well below average at the time of Stewart's publication, stating that in '1965, the black children of South Harlem were, on the average, two years behind grade level in reading' (Labov, 1995: 40) compared with the national average. He also explains that a decade later in North Philadelphia, there was a clear difference between the schools in District 7 of Philadelphia as a whole and the schools within this district attended mainly by African-American students for the number of pupils below the mean national average for reading and mathematics, as shown in the following graph:


At elementary level, the number of District 7 pupils below the mean national average is 58%, compared to 73% in Birney school, situated in the primarily African-American, working-class area of the same district. The test results continue to become poorer and poorer into high school age, but always more so for those schools primarily attended by AAVE speakers. Labov (1995: 41) claims that

   [c]omparable figures can be produced for the 1980s, ten years
   later. The general pattern is the same: the relative position of
   African-American students declines steadily throughout the school
   process. This actually understates the problem considerably, since
   the drop-out rate is also heavily concentrated in this population.

Over the last few decades, several solutions have been proposed to the question of what could be done to help AAVE speakers achieve better results in a SAE educational environment. Initially these included: eradication of the dialectal forms through promotion of the standard; 'biloquialism' (or 'functional bi-dialectalism') which promotes the use of both the standard language and the dialect within 'appropriate' contexts of formality; and finally the 'appreciation of dialect differences approach' which seeks to rid prejudices against dialects in standard speakers instead of trying to change the way non-standard dialect speakers communicate (Fasold and Shuy 1970: x-xi). The second approach, which will be termed 'bidialectalism' throughout, is the one that has received most academic interest, presumably because the 'eradication' method is somewhat prejudiced and the 'appreciation' method is not active in bridging the gap between the nonstandard dialect and the standard for the non-standard speaker. Trudgill (1975: 68) explains the 'bidialectal' approach further, stating that it

   recognises that both the standard English dialect and the child's
   native dialect are valid and good linguistic varieties worthy of
   attention; and both are considered to be 'correct'. … 
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