LINGUIST List 7.941

Thu Jun 27 1996

Disc: Non-standard grammar

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. "Harold F. Schiffman", Re: 7.870, Disc: Non-standard grammar
  2. Celso Alvarez-Caccamo, Re: non-standard grammar
  3. George Elgin, Suzette Haden Elgin, nonstandard grammar

Message 1: Re: 7.870, Disc: Non-standard grammar

Date: Thu, 13 Jun 1996 10:26:15 EDT
From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <>
Subject: Re: 7.870, Disc: Non-standard grammar
I have been biting my tongue about this issue since I am working on an
article about the development of a standard spoken dialect in Tamil,
which has a written standard that dates from around the 13th century.
I am arguing that Tamil actually has a spoken standard, but its
speakers don't recognize this because they think only written
languages can be standardized, and no high authority, Academy (Tamil
"Sangam"), or other legitimizing body has stamped its imprimatur on
the spoken standard.

(I'll not develop this further here except to say that I shall have to
take on the notion that there is a Standard Language Ideology,
according to which Standard Languages (whatever that means) "oppress"
non-standard ones, and that therefore Standardization is inherently
bad and oppressive. I will argue that the SLI is itself an ideology
(the SLI Ideology) that is irrelevant for languages like Tamil, which
need a spoken koine for interpersonal communication. The Standard
Spoken Tamil I and others have identified is used widely in dramas,
the Tamil film, and some radio and TV usage.)

But I digress. Today I ran an ERIC search for "language
standardization" on the ERIC CDRom system and came up with 100's of
titles. I'm going to edit this slightly and put it on a website (my
own) and will publicize its existence when I get it ready.

Harold F. Schiffman				 Academic Director
Henry R. Luce Professor of Language Learning		Penn Language Center
Dept. of South Asia Regional Studies		 4th Floor, Lauder-Fischer
820 Williams Hall, Box 6305					 Box 6330
			University of Pennsylvania
			Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-5825	 		 	 (215) 898-6039
Fax: (215) 573-2138				 Fax (215) 573-2139
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Message 2: Re: non-standard grammar

Date: Fri, 14 Jun 1996 19:08:45 +0200
From: Celso Alvarez-Caccamo <>
Subject: Re: non-standard grammar
		"There are no linguistic solutions to social
		problems" - Jacob Mey

		"Y mi gente dice cosas formidables /
		que hacen temblar a la grama'tica" - Gabriel Celaya

The debate on "non-standard grammar" has helped me organize the
following thoughts. Interestingly, perhaps the one message that
prompted me to participate in this debate is the following:

" LINGUIST List: Vol-7-829. Wed Jun 5 1996. ISSN: 1068-4875. Lines: 314
" Date: Tue, 04 Jun 1996 19:39:44 +0200
" From: (adl)
" Subject: call for paper (in french, sorry!)

J'esp`ere que cette excuse sera sarcastique!, or this matter of the
"appropriate language" is going TOO FAR.

But, to the point: I would say that points 1-3 below are widely
agreed upon in sociolinguistics. Conclusions a-d are perhaps not
new either. The more I think about it, the more I see them as a
matter of common sense.

			Some Thoughts (in English, sorry!)

1a) use of a given linguistic variety is social and communicative
1b) each linguistic variety, or set of them, is "appropriate" for
a set of situational contexts
1c) "appropriateness" is somehow related to speakers'
communicative expectations
1d) "shared communicative expectations" emerge in part from
frequent interaction
1e) "shared expectations" are also somehow related to the
social-structural position of given, prominent participants in
repeated interactions
1f) conflicting expectations and conflicting behaviors may lead
to unexpected/undesired (perlocutionary) effects, whose extreme
case is the physical extermination of the deviant individual or

2a) linguistic resources are differentially distributed along the
various social groups
2b) therefore, access to, mastery, and technical and symbolic
control of standard varieties are also differentially distributed
along the various social groups
2c) the use of the standard variety in its canonically
appropriate contexts is a tool (among others) for "social
2d) "social advancement" partly consists of access to privileged
groups which, as it turns out, master and somehow control the
form, ideological-symbolic import, and communicative
functionality of standard varieties (among other things)

3a) linguistic varieties in use convey an array of social and
interactional meanings beyond propositional content
3b) choice of the inappropriate variety may convey unexpected
socio-interactional meanings and identifications which may
conflict with the expectations and identifications of
institutionally-backed prominent participants
3c) the institutionally-grounded role of prominent participants
where the previous situations arise may include sanctioned
mechanisms for the "correction" (and subsequent social selection)
of deviant participants based on their "inappropriate" behavior

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that:

a) "language correctness" and "appropriateness" is and will
presumably continue to be a rationale for correction,
disciplining, and (coercive) socialization of non-standard
variety users into appropriate communicative conduct

b) this process of (coercive) socialization into appropriate
conduct is and will presumably continue to be exerted only to the
extent that it does not seriously undermine the integrity,
cohesiveness and minority nature of the group(s) in control of
the linguistic resources

c) "social advancement" must thus be viewed as a euphemistic
metaphor for inherently limited access to the privileged groups
who control the very linguistic resources (among others) which
contribute to "social advancement"

d) therefore, "universal mastery of the standard" is merely a
programmatic smokescreen for euphemizing the processes of social
inequality inherent to the unequal distribution and control of
linguistic (material and symbolic) resources

e) therefore, the ultimate goal of privileged groups is not
"universal mastery of the standard", monolingualism, or total
linguistic homogeneity, but, rather, linguistic differentiation
and differential categorization of speech behaviors, which may be
symbolically appropriated for articulating the
technical-ideological rationales underlying the maintenance of
social inequality

Of course, similar mechanisms of social differentiation and
control apply in comparable ways to a number of social behaviors.

Celso Alvarez-Caccamo
Depto. de Linguistica Geral e Teoria da Literatura
Faculdade de Filologia
Universidade da Corunha
15071 A Corunha - Galiza (Espanha)
Tel. 34 - (9)81 - 130457, ext. 1888
FAX 34 - (9)81 - 132459 [em galego-portugues] [in English]
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Message 3: nonstandard grammar

Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 13:11:11 CDT
From: George Elgin, Suzette Haden Elgin <>
Subject: nonstandard grammar
June 18, 1996

I very much appreciated Alison Henry's recent posting on this topic. I
don't believe that she has overstated the case; on the contrary. She
asks whether we are "giving non-standard speakers the message that,
while their grammars are all right for some informal purposes, they
aren't good enough for serious uses" -- and yes, that is precisely the
message. It was the message in the early 1950s when my English was a
source of hilarity at the University of Chicago, and so far as I can
tell it has not changed during these past four decades.

You may remember the flap in the 1970s over J. Mitchell Morse's
statement (published in College English) that Black English, as well
as my native Ozark English, were so inadequate that it wasn't possible
to use them to express coherent thought. That brought a blistering
reply from G. Smitherman on behalf of BE; the editors then asked me
to take up Morse's challenge and prove that a scholarly paper could be
written entirely in Ozark English. I did write the paper, and they did
(to their credit) publish it, without a single word of
explanation. The letters that arrived in response were instructive.

I agree with Alison Henry's posting, and continue to believe that the
various myths about "Standard English" function extremely well as a
filter to keep OzE speakers from entering the prestige professions. A
few of us escape (Bill Clinton comes to mind); many don't. White Trash
English continues to be looked upon as the badge of inferiority, and
we "hillbillies" continue to be the one minority (other than
overweight people, whose numbers make "minority" an inapplicable term)
that it's okay to express open and ugly prejudice against. I've been
sent several clippings lately in which someone had first chastised a
writer or speaker for being a racist, with all sorts of appropriate
and justified outrage, only to end the argument with "Why don't you go
back to the hills where you came from?" OzE speakers grow accustomed
to standardized tests on which many of the multiple choice questions
have *no* right answer listed; passing those tests then becomes a test
of the ability to figure out which of the wrong answers offered is the
one that test-writers preferred.

When I was a graduate student in linguistics, I often observed as a
prof spent a class period at the blackboard laying out some new broil
of information, winding up with a flourish and "And the *proof* that
this is correct is that the following sentence cannot occur in *any*
dialect of English!" He/she would then write on the board the "proof"
sentence, which would turn out to be a perfectly ordinary Ozark
English sentence the likes of which you encounter half a dozen times a
day where I come from. It was never much use to point that out at the
time, and I doubt it will be any use today, but I feel obligated to
support Alison Henry all the same.

Suzette Haden Elgin
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