LINGUIST List 7.823

Tue Jun 4 1996

Disc: Non-standard grammar

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <dseelyemunix.emich.edu>


Directory

  1. Larry Rosenwald, RE: vol-7-806 Non standard grammar
  2. elaine marie jones, non-standard grammar

Message 1: RE: vol-7-806 Non standard grammar

Date: Sun, 02 Jun 1996 15:56:06 +0400
From: Larry Rosenwald <lrosenwaldWELLESLEY.EDU>
Subject: RE: vol-7-806 Non standard grammar
William Labov addresses this question in "The Logic of Nonstandard
English"; he writes, "the reader will have noted that this analysis is
being carried out in standard English, and the inevitable challenge is:
why not write in BEV, then, or in your own nonstandard dialect? The
fundamental reason, of course, one of firmly fixed social conventions.
All communities agree that standard English is the proper medium for
formal writing and public communication. Furthermore, it seems likely
that standard English has an advantage over BEV in explicit analysis of
surface forms, which is what we are doing here" (pp. 217-218 of
_Language in the Inner City_).
	I've always admired both Labov's courage in raising this question, and
his straightforward response to it. But both his arguments depend on
assertions that are subject to evaluation, and I'm not sure what a
lengthy evaluation would yield. Labov is writing in 1972; is it in
fact _now_ the case that "all communities agree that standard English is
the proper medium for formal writing and public communication"? And is
there any way to test the assertion, which Labov himself advances
tentatively, that standard English has an advantage "in explicit
analysis of surface forms"?
		Best, Larry Rosenwald (lrosenwaldwellesley.edu)
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Message 2: non-standard grammar

Date: Mon, 03 Jun 1996 13:06:56 CDT
From: elaine marie jones <emjonesmidway.uchicago.edu>
Subject: non-standard grammar

In response to the query about non-standard grammar, I do not see
any contradiction between the commonly held view that standard
varieties of English are no 'better' than non-standard varieties and the
requirement for using some version of Standard Written English in
scholarly writing. Of course this depends on what is meant by
'better'. What is usually meant, I think, is that the phonological
and grammatical characteristics of these non-standard varieties are
not unusual or deficient as compared with other languages, and that
non-standard varieties work perfectly well for the communicative needs
to which they are put. I think most linguists would also agree that non-
standard varieties do not stunt their speakers' cognitive development or
prevent them from forming lucid arguments. However, nothing in this
view says that linguists must attempt to change the norms of social
behavior which dictate which varieties and styles of speaking or writing
are more appropriate under various circumstances. (It should be pointed
out also that although speakers of non-standard varieties may be more
prone to 'dialect interference' in their writing, nobody actually SPEAKS
Standard Written English, and that a certain amount of regional
variation in the written standard IS tolerated.) While I would agree
that clarity of expression and argumentation is a separate (and much
more important) issue in the evaluation of student writing, it is my
opinion that students should be corrected for the use of non-standard
forms-- not because these forms are intrinsically 'bad', but simply so
that they may avoid social embarrassment later on.


Elaine Jones

emjonesmidway.uchicago.edu
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