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Language debates Writing Centers, Language Diversity, and the Myth of Standard English
Prescriptive versus Descriptive Linguistics Prescriptive linguistics: aims to determine and enforce the rules of language. Descriptive linguistics: aims to describe the functions of language. What are the implications of this distinction?
Geoffrey Nunberg “Since the eighteenth century, most of our great moralists have at one time or another turned their attention to the language….In their essays and in the great grammars and dictionaries, we find … the conviction that the mastery of polite prose is a moral accomplishment, to which we will be moved by appeals to our highest instincts.”
Geoffrey Nunberg “Linguists, of course, have been arguing for a long time that the rules of traditional grammar have no scientific or logical justification, and that the only reason grammarians consider certain usages "correct" is that they happen to have been adopted by the privileged classes in the past” * What does this mean for our work in the writing center?
Geoffrey Nunberg “As the linguists Anthony Kroch and Cathy Small put it in a recent article, "prescriptivism [that is, traditional grammar] is simply the ideology by which the guardians of the standard language impose their linguistic norms on people who have perfectly serviceable norms of their own.” * What does this mean for our work in the writing center?
Geoffrey Nunberg “Once there is a wide consensus that a certain usage is preferable, it behooves us to conform to it…. Furthermore, there is a clear risk of irresponsibility in counseling others to disregard rules that they may be judged by.” * What does this mean for our work in the writing center?
John Fought “Our language is both a tool for communication and a part of our personal image, like our physical appearance, behavior and belongings.” * What, then, are the implications of teaching “standard” English to students whose languages diverge from “standard” English?
Students Rights to Their Own Language (CCC 1974) “We affirm the students' right to their own patterns and varieties of language -- the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. “
SRTOL, 1974 “The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.”
SRTOL: Three Main Claims Students’ language varieties are valuable. The idea of a standard American dialect is a myth. Teachers should be trained to understand this. *How has the topic of language variety been addressed in your education?
Code Switching Offer opportunities for students to exercise home languages in class. Use contrastive analysis to help students see the differences between home languages and standard English. Teach students standard English so as to provide access to educational and professional opportunities.
Code Meshing The distinction between students’ languages and “standard” English is fluid. Home languages are important to students’ identity. Code meshing allows students to integrate home languages along with standard languages in a way that respects the fluid nature of language and the students’ identities.
Questions? Comments? Please write a bit about your reaction to this lesson. Consider the following: What information is new? What did you already know? How, if at all, does this information relate to our work in the writing center? What are the benefits of attending to language diversity? The drawbacks? What questions do you have?