Students’ Right to Their Own Language
Conference on College Composition and Communication
Explanation of Adoption
- This statement, published by CCCC in 1974, explains how different student dialects should be handled by American colleges. It argues that a dialect of nurture, or any dialect connected to a student’s identity, is just as valid in a classroom as “Standard American English.” Furthermore, teachers should be trained to understand linguistic diversity in order to uphold it and support each student’s right to his or her own dialect.
- This statement has been controversial, English teachers are often undereducated on the subjects of linguistics and sociolinguistics, and we all must reconsider our own attitudes toward the Standard variety of our language (according to the introduction of the article). We might find ourselves succeeding more if we move our focus away from linguistic uniformity and towards clear communication, regardless of dialect.
- Due to the controversial nature of the statement, CCCC issued a background statement to answer some anticipated questions. The questions 15 are:
What do we mean by dialect?
-“A dialect is the variety of language used by a group whose linguistic habit patterns both reflect and are determined by shared regional, social, or ultural perspectives…”
Why and how do dialects differ?
-Differences do not prevent mutual intelligibility although there are phonological, lexical, and syntactic variances.
How do we acquire our dialects?
-In spite of much SLA research and many theories, the answer to this question is largely unknown.
Why do some dialects have more prestige than others?
-Because of external designations related to power relationships and attitudes.
How can concepts from modern linguistics help clarify the question of dialect?
-We can understand that intelligence is not a factor in a child’s language acquisition…
Does dialect affect the ability to read?
A student’s grasp of a non Edited America English (EAE) dialect does not determine inability to decode text written in EAE. We must broaden our reading materials and choose readings which complement students’ life experiences.
Does dialect affect the ability to write?
To learn to write, certain conventions must be mastered. Speakers of various social backgrounds can grasp EAE (Hemingway, Faulkner, Edward Kennedy etc. serve as examples of this). However, it is possible to express oneself clearly, communicate information and discover meaning in any dialect. Content should be deemed more important than spelling, punctuation and usage. EAE is important for some students, but aspects of language which are more important than dialect should be focused on.
Does dialect limit the ability to think?
While surface features of languages vary, deep structure does not. “The human brain is the human brain.”
What is the background for teaching one grammar?
Grammar rules stemmed the need of a rising middle class to separate itself from the lower class. Linguistic rules were created to separate the powerful and privileged from the poor. These eighteenth century English practices were brought to the New World, where “linguistic snobbery” was encouraged.
What do we do about handbooks?
Handbooks are restrictive, as they only focus on EAE. Teachers should help students understand the restrictions and view handbooks as limited resources.
How can students be offered dialect options?
Options related to tone, style, syntax, diction etc. should be explored. Students should see how vividness, precision and accuracy can be achieved in any dialect.
What do we do about standardized tests?
Tests should take into consideration a variety of dialects. EAE-specific tests should be separate than other standardized tests, and only used if testing a student’s EAE-related knowledge is necessary.
What are the implications of this resolution for students’ work in courses other than English?
Attitudes toward dialect differences need to shift across the curriculum. We can help students who find themselves in restrictive courses.
How does dialect affect employability?
Spoken dialect does not often affect job performance. Students can learn forms associated with EAE, and view EAE as an additional option on top of what they already know, in terms of dialect.
What sort of knowledge about language do English teachers need?
Teachers should know something about:
1. The nature of language as an oral, symbolic system by which human beings interact and communicate
2. The history of English and how it continually changes in vocabulary, syntax and pronunciation
3. The nature of dialects
4. Language acquisition
8. Grammar and usage - “Grammar is a description of a the system by which a language conveys meaning beyond the sum of the meanings of individual words.”
12. The role of change
Students’ Right to Their Own Language
By Jeff Zorn
According to Zorn, CCCC’s “Student’s Right to Their Own Language” (SRTOL) marginalized students it aimed to help. His critique offers six points regarding the shortcomings of SRTOL:
It never beings to examine a “right” to one’s own language;
It offers no consistent view on the importance of dialect;
It wildly overrates its “sophisticated” knowledge in sociology and linguistics;
It both draws on and feeds into a reactionary politics of ethinc-cultural chauvinism;
It clumps people in homogenous, internally undifferentiated groups, missing individuals entires;
It tries to shame English teachers for professional work of which we should be proud.
He emphasizes that Standard American English is not a myth and not a dialect, but rather a level of English used by the literate; he sees SRTOL as something that promotes miscommunication, semi-literacy and underachievement.
CCCC’s Role in the Struggle for Language Rights