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Final paper

  1. 1. 1Christine SabinaMarch 10, 2012Aspects 3460-001Final Research Paper Dialects in the Classroom In an academic setting such as a classroom teachers are faced with students from differentbackground with a variety of Dialects. Dialects can represent identity for most and can be verycontroversial when stressing the importance of Standard English in certain situations. Teachershave the task of explaining how situational Standard English is Appropriate but not considered“better” than any other Dialect. The idea of a better Dialect is a “Social construction” and can bethe downfall of a student‟s self esteem if not careful (McClanahan). This paper will cover thereasoning behind speech tests, such as UNCP‟s, it will also cover the idea of Dialect and Identityin the classroom and how teachers should resound. In order for teachers to respond to the students they must become aware. The importanceof speech is seen all over College Campuses. Some students are required a speech class beforegraduating, others like UNCP are participating in a speech test upon entering the institution. AtUNCP, the “Speech evaluation” as referred to by Professors and faculty is given to see if in acareer oriented setting the student can speak Standard English. The students are notified beforeanswering the questions that they should treat this like a job interview.
  2. 2. 2 Dr. Virginia K. McClanahan, A professor specializing in Linguistics explains the speechvaluation as neither a “pass” nor “fail” test. If McClanahan feels that the student needs moreassistance on situational Standard English, they will be “flagged” for a voice and Diction coursebefore graduating. McClanahan reviews all tapes of admission students who enter UNCP. Thestudents phone in and leave a message answering questions such as, “Please state your name, andspell your first name and then your last name?”, “Do you know what you want to major in?” Allthe questions require more than just a yes or no answer, there is some explanation needed. Thesecond part of the speech test requires the students to read out several sentences such as “I askedwhy there was so much construction machinery in the street.”, “It‟s a fifty dollar fine if you don‟tfile your tax form.” The most common flags for Non Standard English such are the „th‟ sound,dropping endings, non standard grammar, and subject verb agreement (McClanahan). Although the test is extremely beneficial, educators must be careful as Huntington Lymanand Margo A. Figgins state in their article titled, “Democracy, Dialect, and The Power Of EveryVoice,” “Students who came to school with variant dialects were taught a standard form ofEnglish typically framed as „correct‟ and thought of as „pure‟” (Lyman and Figgins 41). Manystudents entering college with a unique dialect have more than likely been accused of notspeaking properly. It is important for educators to never make students feel that their Dialect iswrong. McClanahan states, “There is no such thing as „proper dialect,‟ all Dialects are ruledgoverned.” The speech evaluation is appropriate at UNCP because Language is based on situation.The idea of language is spoken appropriately in every situation. The Speech Evaluation atUNCP is situation based, based on a career setting. The students are notified of the setting when
  3. 3. 3taking the test, so there is no such idea of trying to trick them, instead just evaluate their speech.According to the 2011 Vision Statement of the school, “Communicate effectively is stated.” …will challenge students to embrace difference and adapt to change, think critically, communicate effectively, and become responsible citizens. Working from a strong foundation in the liberal arts, we will increase opportunities to infuse our curriculum with interdisciplinary innovation while promoting undergraduate and graduate research…The Speech Evaluation prepares students for the job market. The students are able to understandthat Standard English is used for certain situations and that they should not be afraid of theirdialect but instead understand that it is situational based. Lyman and Figgin‟s state, “Linguistsagree that Standard English is not inherently „better‟ than other dialects” (Lyman, Figgins 41). The speech test offers those students who might not understand what Standard English isand when to use code switching. The code switching offers students to switch back in forth indialects based on different situations. Code switching can be difficult for some students becausethey do not have experience outside of school. Depending on their background and what dialectsthey are surrounded by it is hard to gain the experience needed. The classroom is vital place forcode switching to take place. The students must learn when Standard English is appropriate andwhen their own dialect if acceptable. Studies have shown that “Large groups of NorthAmericans from particular class, racial, ethnic, and/or linguistic backgrounds evidence patternsof educational attainment which are not congruent with those of the larger population.” WriterToohey continues with “Linguistic explanations for the educational difficulties of non-Englishspeaking children have been relatively direct in that it would seem that not controlling the
  4. 4. 4language of the school is clearly a disadvantage” (Tooney). Toohey is explaining thedisadvantages to students not speaking one dialect; Disadvantages being the students notexcelling because they lack situational Standard English. Tooney is making a point that Englishteachers and Professors have to work harder in making sure the students are aware of their lackof Standard English and come up with effective ways to teach it. However there are many advantages to students speaking a variety of dialects, which iswhy teachers should still embrace each student‟s dialect. In the career field all studentsunderstanding Standard English is vital and sometimes over looked. The students who have notbeen exposed or shown the importances of Standard English are those who suffer the most. The speech test at UNCP exposes students to the importance of Standard English and ifflagged have the opportunity to receive the extra help they have been missing out on. UNCPvision statement explains the importance of effective communication and the Speech test is incompliance with that statement. After establishing an effective speech test the question of how teachers enforce StandardEnglish with regards to a Students Dialect and identity is a difficult task. Dialect representsidentify for most and for students dialect can be a very sensitive subject. If a teacher tells astudent‟s they are speaking wrong or improper, their self esteem becomes questioned. In anarticle titled “Students‟ Right to their own Language‟:A counter-Argument‟” Jeff Zorn arguesthat teachers need to be professionally trained on how to enforce Standard English with regardsto students dialects. Zorn states, “We affirm the students‟ right to their own patterns andvarieties of language—the dialects of their nature of whatever dialects in which they find theirown identity and style.” Dialects represents a since of pride and will not die out, they must be
  5. 5. 5embraced. Teachers should portray this to students and make sure they feel comfortablespeaking. In 1960, Dialect was not always warmly embraced, as described in “An Argument forAppreciation of Dialect in the classroom,” the Eradication Theory proposed as a result ofEnglishman Basil Berstein‟s deficit model. Berstein states (1960), „In cognitive styles of lowerclass families, language is used in a convergent or restrictive fashion rather than a divergent,elaborative fashion‟” (Dean, Fowler 302). During this time period it was thought that anythingother than Standard English was considered a “deficient way of expressing themselves” (Dean,Flower 302). The teachers often found themselves refusing to understand or accept nonstandardspeech in the classroom. The students usually had two choices, one to learn Standard English ordiscontinue their efforts to communicate, at which point the child would simply give up (302). The controversy behind dialect and identity is many recognize dialect as representingone‟s background or cultural. There are some dialects specific to certain areas. When you aredealing with judgmental students it is hard to separate dialect and social class. For years manypeople thought of anything other than Standard English to be detrimental. Because dialect isinfluenced by a person‟s background their class immediately comes into question. TimothyFrazer studies sound change in his article titled, “Sound Change and Social Structure in RuralCommunity.‟ His article focuses on a specific rural town where he interviews several differentpeople and collects data on their speech. Some people living only a few miles apart had differenttraits when it came to their speech. Frazer separated the people based on the job, income, andage for example some were farmers in the rural community. Frazer was able to show that eachhousehold, occupation and age made a difference in the way they spoke. (Frazer 313-328).
  6. 6. 6Teachers have to deal with these factors and be careful when addressing because dialect is soclosely linked to social class, miscomputations can come up from addressing the issue. Teachers in today‟s society must be careful not to enforce those stigmatizing choices thestudents once had to pick. When a teachers refuses to embrace a student‟s dialect they arerefusing to embrace their heritage and cultural background. Embracing does not mean lookingdown on the students because they speak different, it means making them aware of when andwhere to use their Dialect. All teachers can do is make students aware in a professional mannerand help them understand why Standard English is valuable when used correctly. A teachermust stay neutral regarding Dialects. All students must realize that there is no Dialect better thanthe next one. In the today‟s classroom there are so many high stake tests dealing with writing, that useof Standard English becomes very important. In the writing world Standard English is widelyaccepted and praised, sometimes it is not accepted in any other dialect. If a student is notcommunicating efficiently in Standard English, their writing can be greatly affected when tryingto write in Standard English. In Michelle Crotteau‟s article, “Honering Dialect and Culture:Pathways to Student Success on High-Stakes Writing Assessments,” Crotteau works with fourstudents who failed the writing test. They are enrolled into a strategies course where she canfocus on understanding why the failed their writing test. Right away she asked them to write ashort personal essay about themselves but before she lets them know she is a very importantperson, for example the students are writing this to a person in the professional world. One ofthe student responses was, “Some things that you can do is ride; it be peaceful; you want bedisturb” (29). Crotteau had to be careful when explaining how his dialect used at home is what
  7. 7. 7is causing grammatical issues on his writing test. She explained that she could not tell him thatis dialect is wrong but yet inappropriate for this situation. Crotteau‟s article shows exactly how a situation where a student‟s Dialect can become anissue in the classroom. She first helps the student recognize the issue and then she helps solve theissue. By the end of the class that student understood the idea of, appropriateness. Appropriateness is another method teachers can use when explaining Dialect in theclassroom. Dean and Fowler talk discuss the idea of Appropriateness, stating, “There is a criterion, however, for selecting one language or dialect for use in a given situation; that criterion is „appropriateness‟….Appropriateness varies with the place and the participants in the conversation….Because there are situations in which nonstandard is appropriate, it would be unwise to eradicate it in teaching standing English” (Dean, Fowler 303).Dialects are extremely unique and can represent ones identity or individuality. Sometimes that iswhere the controversy lies, because dialect can be so sensitive, teachers find it too controversialto bring it or correct students. But by not correcting students or explaining “appropriateness”they are only hurting the students. Going back to UNCP‟s speech test, one reason why it isextremely successful but controversial is because of the lack of education on dialects in HighSchools. The students entering UNCP do not understand why a speech test is needed and firstreactions can come off as, stigmatizing, detrimental, and racist. The 1997, Oakland Ebonics is a prime example. The controversy behind making Ebonicsa separate language in the classroom caused uproar in California. Writer, Zorn quotes CynthiaTucker, a columnist speaking on the controversy, “I understand that African Americans have this
  8. 8. 8quality to operate in both worlds, Ebonics shouldn‟t be taught in school” (320). This controversyis something teachers face when tackling Dialect in the classroom. Clara Alexander explains inher article, titled “Black English dialect and the Classroom Teacher,” Black English evolved thesame way any other dialect of English evolved, as a “result of the culture, the environment, theneeds of the group, and contact with other languages” (571). Alexandar states activities thatteachers can give while trying to teach Standard English and accepting Black English. Oneactivity is letting the students read a variety of authors in the classroom, some historically blackpoems. This activity can help students with the tool of code switching even before theyunderstand what it is exactly. Alxendar says although we embrace such as in the classroomdialects, like Black English, they can affect students when it comes to written communication.The teacher must be well aware of these different dialects and how to approach them in aclassroom setting. The Oakland Ebonics case can cause teachers to be weary when bringing up Dialect inthe classroom. Especially when trying to explain the significance of Standard English in theclassroom. If the situation is approached in a professional manner, the teachers should havenothing to fear. Fear from the teachers resolves in students having no idea when code switchingis accepted or when Standard English is needed. An older study performed in New Castle Jamaica in 1971 had several points that seem tobe reoccurring in today‟s society concerning dialect. In the town of Newcastle the teachers aretrying to bring Literature in the classroom that the students are not use to reading StandardEnglish. Their Dialect in Jamaica makes it hard for some students to understand StandardEnglish. There are three points of the article that go along with how teachers should tackledialect in the classroom. Some things to let the students to consider are A.) A strong desire to
  9. 9. 9succeed. B.) The ability to create and fashion something new and intensely personal out ofsituations to which they are exposed. The situation may be literacy, emotional or cultural. C.)Experience of the „real‟ adult world. The points are important to consider when teachingstudents the importance of Standard English and communication itself. The last point can helpstudents look to the future and what to expect in the career world. The students in this studiedbegan to realize the importance of communicated in Standard English because of the newmaterial given to them to read. The article then goes on to state that if the teachers are stimulatedby the information the students can be as well. It is vital for teachers to address the issue ofconflict to avoid hurting the students in the near future (James 73-76). The teachers must put theuncomfortable feeling addressing dialect can bring, for the best of the student. Once the teacher has accepted their role in identifying different dialects and teachingmaking students aware of Standard English, teachers must then focus on each student as anindividual case, assuming that not every student has the same dialect and their problems inStandard English vary. One approach teachers can take when explaining Standard English is“instead of condemning our students language, then, because it violates our rules, we would dobetter to respect it (it is very much a part of him)…” the student, “…and to try persuading himthat he should respect it, too” (Dean and Fowler 303). All a teacher can do is give the studentsindication that they are not speaking Standard English in certain situations. It is then thestudent‟s job to try and respect the benefits of the language. The speech test at UNCP test for Standard English usage. Professors stress theimportance of referring to the test a not a pass or fail but instead the students will be flagged ifthe evaluator does not think that their Standard English is prominent. Mary Dean and ElaineFowler state, “…although it is true from a linguistic viewpoint that all dialects are equal, it is
  10. 10. 10also true from a social viewpoint that some dialects are considered more valuable than others incertain contexts” (303). Socially speaking, Standard English is the more desirable languagepreferred on the job market. The speech evaluation test at Pembroke allows students who mighthave not been previously aware how they are speaking in certain situations. The test does notsingle any specific dialect out as bad; instead it focuses on letting the students know that theyneed more assistance with Standard English. There is a course offered if a student becomesflagged. The course focuses on communicating and understanding dialect in specific situations,such as an interview or a presentation. At UNCP the speech test is a necessity, especially with entering freshman who do notrealize how dialect is unique but can also be stigmatizing when looking for a job or uponentering the carrier field. UNCP prepares students for after college and knowing and SpeakingStandard English is just one key component to continue being successful. It is important for highschool teachers to respectfully notify when a student‟s dialect is becoming an issue in theclassroom. If the issue is handled early there will be less controversy at the college level when itcomes to speech test such as UNCP‟s.
  11. 11. 11 Works CitedAlexander, Clara. "Black English Dialect and the classroom Teacher." International Reading Association. 33.5 (1980): 571-577. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://0->.Crotteau, Michelle. "National Council of Teachers of English." Honoring Dialect and CulturePathways to Student Success on High-Stakes Writing Assessments:. 95.3 (2007): 27-32. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <>.Dean, Mary, and Elaine Fowler. "An Argument for Appreciation of Dialect Differences in the Classroom." Journal of Negro Education. 43.3 (1974): 302-309. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://0->.Frazor, Timothy. "Sound CHange and Social Structure in Rural Community." Cambridge University. 12.3 (1983): 313-328. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <>.James, Sybil. "Teaching Literature in a Dialect/ Standard Situation." University of the West Indies and Caribbean Quarterly. 18.3 (1972): 73-76. Print. <http://0->."Languages and Dialects." University of Northern Iowa. 104.214 (1867): 3o-64. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.
  12. 12. 12 <>.Lyman, Huntington, and Margo Figgins. "Democracy, Dialect, and the Power of Every Voioce." National Council of Teachers of ENglish. 94.5 (2005): 40-47. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://0->.McClanahan, Virginia K. Personal Interview. 10 April 2012.Toohey, Kelleen. "MinorityEducational Failure; Dialect a factor?." Blackwell publishing on behalf of the Ontario Institute for studies in Education/ University of Toronto. 16.2 (1986): 127-145. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. < >.Zorn, Jeff. "Students Right To Their Own Language": A Counter-Argument." Academic Questions 23.3 (2010): 311-326. ERIC. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.“2011-2012 catalog.”The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. 30 Sept. 2011. Web 12 April 2012.