No, that isn’t “Bad English.” (article)

Mike Laser shared this article, which discusses dialect and ideas of correctness in speech and writing.

No, that isn’t “Bad English.”

The article is subtitled, “The obligatory lecture that needs to start every English class.” While I wouldn’t quite go that far, I do tend to spend a class on things like accent, dialect, and the arbitrariness of language at the start of the semester, especially in 105.

To be precise, I actually don’t use the term dialect much and prefer to use the term “code,” which I think is easier for students to grasp (and leads neatly into the issue of code-switching). A second, larger reason for using “code” is that I also want students to think of non-verbal codes. I usually lead into the discussion by drawing things on the board, such as a house or the sun, and asking how they know what these are. I also will often draw a disassembled stick figure, which they immediately recognize when put together, and which they will tend to gender as male or female with slight additions. These activities and such discussion lay the groundwork for getting students to think about the shared codes they possess; how they access (or lack access to) such codes; how these codes affect their thinking and reading and writing; what sort of codes are being emphasized (or deemphasized) in the writing and reading they do in my class and in their other work in the university; cultural codes they work with and how these affect them; and so on.

In my experience, such explicit discussion of codes (or, in the article, dialects) has been extremely productive for my classes.

What about you? How do you touch upon dialects, correctness, codes, and related matters? And, of course, what did you think of the article?


3 thoughts on “No, that isn’t “Bad English.” (article)

  1. Bravo. I think many principles of linguistics should be introduced into the classroom, teaching students how language is constructed, how meaning is conveyed, and the role of language in our everyday life. My now defunct blog (I have turned to writing other things) Linguistics In The Classroom, is composed of short exercises like your excellent ones, which illustrate linguistic principles.

  2. I agree that writing teachers should spend at least some time on issues of linguistic difference. I have taught a unit I call, “Language diversity and Linguistic Prejudice,” for some time now. It’s an issue very close to my heart. I grew up in a fairly culturally diverse town, where my friends and classmates, and their parents, spoke differently than me and my family. I also grew up talking (not very) somewhat differently than my NOT ‘working-class, first-generation college-student-in-family’ professors and collegiate peers, which got me “into trouble” as an “English major” throughout undergrad and grad school. A graduate professor who loved my work conceptually (got an A in her course on the contemporary novel) declined writing a letter of recommendation for me when I applied to doctoral programs because of my speech patterns. Yes, seriously.

    Because of my experiences, and those of a significant number of my students (many of whom are – essentially – the kids of the kids I grew up with), I ditched the term “Standard” English from my vocabulary some time ago. I like to call us out on it — grammatically-speaking. I use the term “Standardized” English and discuss it as part of the unit I teach. This semester, I had a significant number of students begin using my preferred term during class discussions. I couldn’t have been more pleased. And, I’m not surprised, nor likely are any readers of this blog, that the majority who did had identified as coming from non-standardized English speaking backgrounds.

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