Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Say You What, Homey?

Pilot Online from Hampton VA has a detailed article on how English language teachers are teaching kids how to write proper English using the linguistic device of code-switching.

Considering how different the dialect the kids speak is from standard English, it might as well be a different language.

"When Mary Taylor, the teacher, called on Devante Hairston and Richard Washington, the seventh-graders burst into the middle of the classroom and faced each other. Classmates crowded around.

"What it do?" Devante said, emphasizing the last word.

It was Richard's job to "translate" his friend's informal speech into formal language. Richard furrowed his brow, made a false start, then came up with "What did you do, homey?"

The other students shouted, cheered and clamored to be next.

Taylor was teaching her language arts students how to "code switch" between informal English and the standard style required for tests, school papers and future job interviews.

What fascinates me about all this is not the fact that these kids speak a dialect. In Arabic, there are tens of dialects, some of them mutually incomprehensible. And there is the Modern Standard, which is what is taught at schools and spoken on the major media. Then there is Classical Arabic, the language of religion, which is a prerequiste for reading the Koran and any literary heritage.

What fascinates me is the response of readers to this article.

  • That native English language speakers are losing to motivated Indians and Chinese who can master the grammar.
  • That these kids will fit no where but in the penal system if they get taught like that.
  • That one should always speak the way they write!!!
  • That these teachers are promoting the worst kind of trashy English, and they do so because they are too lazy to teach anything proper.
  • That Manners and proper English are the hallmarks of the intelligent upper class and are impossible to fake, and that such a thing would not happen in a private school because that is where the upper class sends its kids.
  • That Ebonics and slang are the languages of yard workers, domestics and convicted felons, while proper English is the language of doctors, lawyers and professionals and always will be.
  • That people in Australia, England, Canada and even different parts of the US may sound different when they are speaking English, but they are all grammatically correct, but they don't do so in the US.
  • That accents, tones and inflections can be confusing and everyone should learn to speak the same standard English at school to prevent communication breakdown!
  • Oh, that English is one of the simplest languages in the world.

Three pages of this drivel. Maybe they should add one thing - that regardless to how well they speak/write standard English (which is open to definition), they are all extremely ignorant about linguistics, as none of the comments above is scientifically valid.

Maybe you don't have to be educated/cultured in the US. Maybe just speaking "correct grammar" is enough?

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