1970s Mother-tongue education Two major problems
Problem I Mother-tongue education is peculiarly susceptible to ideological influence and interference, because it is seen as having a role in transmitting political and cultural values.
Problem II When I went to school, I was taught arithmetic because I didn’t know any arithmetic; I was taught history because I didn’t know any history; I was taught French because I didn’t know any French …
Problem II … but the reason I was taught English wasn’t because I didn’t know any English!
Problem II Teaching English to English speakers in England, or German to German speakers in Germany, or Hungarian to Hungarian speakers in Hungary, is a rather peculiar business. What is it for?
1970s mother-tongue education One clear goal: the achievement of literacy.
1970s mother-tongue education But this can be undermined by the other more nebulous goal of value transmission. And it can also be undermined by ignorance about the nature of human language. So …
Motivation The book was written for a series, aimed at teachers and teacher trainers, about language and language use. I was asked to present knowledge shared by all linguistic scientists about the nature of language structure.
Motivation There was nothing in the book that linguistics experts would find even slightly controversial. BUT Look what happened …
Informed and intelligent discussion in the British Press “Bad grammar is incomplete and lazy. It is wrong and therefore inferior.” (Peter Black. The Guardian. December 6 th, 1975)
Informed and intelligent discussion in the British Press “Some poor children already suffer from progressive teachers who think it wrong to make them read. They are now threatened with a rash of Trudgills who won’t correct their grammar. Yet nothing could penalise the working-class more than to be denied the right to knowledge.” (Sunday Telegraph. November 28 th, 1975)
Informed and intelligent discussion in the British Press “Dr Peter Trudgill says that children should be allowed to write as they like without regard to the rules of spelling or grammar. Teachers who stand by the rules are, he says, ‘unfairly penalising the working class’. What an insult to most of us! It presumes that there is a ‘working class’ and that it is unable to understand how to write properly.” (Reading Evening Post. November 28 th, 1975)
Informed and intelligent discussion in the British Press “It seems to me a matter of observable fact that some young children growing up with, for example, an East London dialect offshoot pronouncing ‘station’ as ‘stition’ and ‘shouldn’t have’ as ‘shoodenov’ are lacking entire sounds and words in their vocal repertoire.” (John Ezard. The Guardian (Education Section). August 12 th, 1975)
Informed and intelligent discussion in the British Press “Dr Peter Trudgill says that Grammar is unimportant. There is no reason, he says, to ask that children should use standard English in creative writing or in personal letters since no advantages are likely to result from this. He appeared looking sloppy and unattractive on television. He implied – fairly inarticulately – that if a child wanted to say ‘I don’t want none of that’, it would be acceptable because, crikey, we know what he means, don’t we.” (Lynda Lee-Potter. Daily Mail. December 3 rd, 1975)
What did the book really say? Standard English is one dialect among many. All dialects have grammatical structure. Native speakers ‘don’t make mistakes’. There is nothing wrong or inadequate about nonstandard dialects … etc.
All dialects have grammatical structure Nonstandard English: We done that last week. “Failure” to distinguish between past tense and past participle: We have done it every week.
All dialects have grammatical structure Compare Standard English: We made that last week. “Failure” to distinguish between past tense and past participle: We have made it every week.
All dialects have grammatical structure Nonstandard English distinction between full verb do and auxiliary do: You done it, did you? Standard English “failure” to distinguish between full verb do and auxiliary do: You did it, did you?
Objectives Literacy Knowledge about grammar Knowledge about dialects Confidence
By 1978: Accent, Dialect & the School was on the curriculum for most English Dip.Ed. etc. courses.
Now … we have to fight this battle all over again
Now … Karen Grainger (2013): ‘The daily grunt’: middle-class bias and vested interests in the ‘Getting in Early’ and ‘Why Can't They Read?’ reports. Language and Education, 27:2, 99-109
Now … “It is a long-standing and commonly held belief in the United Kingdom that the use of elite forms of language reflects superior intellect and education. Expert opinion from sociolinguistics contends that such a view is the result of middle-class bias and cannot be scientifically justified.” Karen Grainger (2013)
Now … “In the 1960s and 1970s, such luminaries as Labov and Trudgill were at pains to point out to educationalists that this ‘deficit’ view of working-class children’s communicative competence is not a helpful one.” Karen Grainger (2013)
Now … “However, a close reading of recent think- tank reports and policy papers on language and literacy teaching in schools reveals that the linguistic deficit hypothesis has resurfaced and is likely to influence present-day educational policy and practice. In this paper, I examine in detail the findings, claims and recommendations of the reports.” Karen Grainger (2013)
Now … “They are biased, poorly researched and reflect the vested interests of certain specialist groups. We need to move away from the pathologisation of working-class children’s language patterns and, once again, inject a sociolinguistic perspective on language and educational failure into the debate.” Karen Grainger (2013)
Dear Mr Gove….. Michael Rosen's letter from a curious parent “There's no evidence the testing of grammar will improve children's writing, but plenty that daily reading for pleasure does, so why don't you make that the statutory requirement?”
Dear Mr Gove … Punctuation – vitally important! Spelling – much less important! Grammar – does Mr Gove understand what this means?
Dear Mr Gove … Grammar – knowledge about the grammatical structure of English, and other languages: noun, verb, conjunction … Can Mr Gove explain the rule which determines when to say I walked down the street vs. I was walking down the street
Dear Mr Gove … “Grammar” – usage of Standard English grammatical forms: I did it vs. I done it
Confusion … … about what you are testing when you are “testing grammar” does not help anybody or anything. So …