Language, Structure, and Reproduction: An Introduction to the Sociology of Basil Bernstein

By Paul Atkinson | Go to book overview

6

Bernstein and the linguists

In a book of this scope and length it would be quite impossible—and inappropriate—to try to review all the literature which uses, comments on and criticizes Bernstein’s language theories. My view, indeed, is that much of that literature is rendered all but irrelevant, since it is based on erroneous interpretations of Bernstein. As indicated already, Bernstein’s work should never have been thought of as a version of sociolinguistics attempting to describe two contrasting dialects or their equivalent. Critics who upbraid Bernstein for an inadequate representation of ‘styles’ are equally wide of the mark. In this chapter, therefore, I refer to some of the critics among the linguists in order to expose the irrelevance of their remarks to Bernstein’s structuralist semiotics, and to introduce, by way of contrast, linguistic thought which is relevant to that programme. No attempt is made even to approximate to a comprehensive review of the literature on class differences in language acquisition and use, or on the relationships between language, ability and attainment. I have singled out for attention a small number of authors whose work has entered directly or indirectly into debate with Bernstein, and who themselves make a significant contribution to linguistics. I have not devoted attention to other figures who enter into merely polemical and contentious disputes.

There have been a number of readily available secondary sources which cover the sociolinguistic debates (e.g. Edwards,

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