Professor Caroline Rowland, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology Health and Society, is currently working on a two-year ESRC project to map the first stages of children’s language development across the whole of the UK (wcww.uk-cdi.ac.uk)
“Sacred Heart Primary School in Teesside has asked parents to correct their children’s local accent and grammar.
“The head teacher’s laudable aim is to ensure that her pupils are not disadvantaged later in life. After all, they will eventually be marked down in formal exams if they write ‘Shirt’ as ‘Shert’, or use ‘could of’ instead of ‘could have.’
Not a new problem
“However, this problem is not new. In 1996, the Oakland School Board in California devised a different, but equally controversial, solution to this problem. They passed a resolution recognising Ebonics – Black African American English – as a separate legitimate language.
“The Board instructed that “The Superintendent . . . shall immediately devise and implement the best possible academic program for imparting instruction to African-American students in their primary language.”
“But neither solution is ideal. The Oakland School Board’s decision may disadvantage children in later life, when they are competing for university places and jobs with speakers of Standard English. Sacred Heart’s solution may encourage children to think of their own dialect as inferior. And there is no guarantee that it will work.
“So, to my mind, a better solution may be simply to teach children that different situations call for different ways of speaking. English, history and geography essays require one type of English, conversations with family and friends require another.
“I don’t think this concept will be difficult for children to grasp. A friend recently explained to her daughter that the language she used with her teenage friends was perhaps not appropriate for a conversation with grandma.
“Parents are often required to teach their children how to behave and speak in different situations, and both children and parents take this in their stride. Sacred Heart Primary School could do worse than follow their example.“
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For more information about Professor Rowland’s ESRC project, click here