of these groups must often develop a facility with certain standard dialect forms and ways of interacting with language. Thus, these students have an extra hurdle to overcome simply because they do not have the same background as others and because the school does not value some of their strengths.
Dialect differences between groups of students can affect the quality of education in at least two ways, in spite of sincere efforts to ensure equality of opportunity. One area that has been widely discussed is the possibility that a child's dialect may interfere with the acquisition of various skills (such as reading) and concepts on which later success might depend. More subtle, and perhaps more crucial, are the social consequences of being a member of a different dialect group. The attitudes of teachers and other educators, as well as other students, can have a tremendous impact on the education process. Often people who hear a vernacular dialect make erroneous assumptions about a speaker's intelligence, motivation, and even morality. This kind of dialect-based stereotyping can affect even those who value cultural difference and who pride themselves on treating everyone with respect because dialect prejudice can be very subtle and can operate on an unconscious level.
When a teacher or other school official reacts negatively toward a student's dialect, the result can be detrimental to students from nonmain-stream backgrounds. Studies have shown that there can be a self-fulfilling prophecy in teachers' beliefs about their students' abilities (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). It is possible that if a teacher underestimates a child's ability because of dialect differences, perhaps as a direct result, the child will do less well in that class. In some cases, students are tracked with less able students or placed in classes for students with disabilities largely because of their speech patterns. Obviously, children's self-concept may be injured if they encounter negative opinions about their dialect, and they may take up the negative stance toward their own dialect that they experience at school themselves. So educational and social equity may be directly affected by dialect differences.
Alvarez, L., & Kolker, A. (Producers). (1987). American tongues. New York: Center for New American Media.
This award-winning video (available in a 56-minute full-length version and a 40-minute secondary school version) is an invaluable supplement to any presentation of American English dialects. In a highly entertaining way, it presents a basic introduction to the nature of dialects and dialect prejudice. It can be used with a wide range of audiences representing quite different backgrounds (e.g., civic groups, professional development for educators, human relations seminars), and can be counted on to provoke a lively postviewing discussion.
American Speech. A publication of the American Dialect Society. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.
This quarterly journal publishes articles on American dialects of all types, balancing more technical treatments with shorter, nontechnical observations.
Bauer, L., & Trudgill, P. (Eds.). (1998). Language myths. New York: Penguin.
The chapters in this book examine some strong and widely held beliefs about language use that are at odds with findings from research.
Carver, C. M. (1987). American regional dialects: A word geography. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
This work offers the most complete discussion available of all major regional dialects of the United States based on vocabulary differences, and includes summary maps of each region. Criteria for distinguishing regional varieties of English are also discussed. It is intended for dialectologists, but can be read by serious students in other fields as well.
Cassidy, F. G. (Chief Editor). (1985, 1991, 1996). Dictionary of American regional English (Vols. I–III). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.