LINGUIST List 21.2079

Mon May 03 2010

Diss: Socioling: Buendgens-Kosten: 'Teachers' Attitudes Toward African American Vernacular English ...'

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        1.    Judith Buendgens-Kosten, Teachers' Attitudes Toward African American Vernacular English: Influence of contact with linguistics on ambivalent attitudes

Message 1: Teachers' Attitudes Toward African American Vernacular English : Influence of contact with linguistics on ambivalent attitudes
Date: 03-May-2010
From: Judith Buendgens-Kosten <>
Subject: Teachers' Attitudes Toward African American Vernacular English: Influence of contact with linguistics on ambivalent attitudes
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Institution: Rheinische-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen Program: English Linguistics Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2009

Author: Judith Buendgens-Kosten

Dissertation Title: Teachers' Attitudes Toward African American Vernacular English: Influence of contact with linguistics on ambivalent attitudes

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Dissertation Director:
Paul Georg Meyer
Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis studies the relationship between American teachers' attitudestoward African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and the intensity oftheir contact with linguistics. Several studies have found negativeattitudes toward this variety, including attitudes of teachers. Negativeattitudes toward a variety can trigger lowered teacher expectations.According to the Pygmalion Theory, lower expectations can cause lower ratesof scholastic achievement on the side of the student. This is one of thereasons why methods to influence negative attitudes toward varieties ofEnglish have been the focus of sociolinguistic research for quite some time.

Oftentimes, sociolinguists have assumed that an effect holds betweenlinguistic knowledge and negative language attitudes. So far, this assumedrelationship has been tested by Blake & Cutler (2003), Abdul-Hakim (2002)and Bowie & Bond (1994). Only the latter's data supported such arelationship, but in the other two studies no relation could be foundbetween contact with linguistics and attitudes toward AAVE.

This thesis tested the assumed relationship between attitudes andlinguistic knowledge using an ex-post-facto research setup. The attitudesof 171 American teachers, retired teachers, students undergoing teachertraining and teaching assistants were assessed using a 13-item Thurstonescale. Contact with linguistics was measured via guided self-assessment.The data showed a significant relationship between response behavior on theThurstone scale and the degree of contact with linguistics for severalitems. Interestingly, this relationship was not always in the form ofincreased contact connected to 'improvements' of attitudes. The responsebehavior of subjects was characterized by ambivalence. Generally, subjectsagreed with items that were positioned on distant points of the attitudecontinuum. This form of response behavior is evaluatively contradictory,i.e. subjects agreed with both positive (e.g. "African American English hasa place at the home of its speakers.") and negative items (e.g. "Speakersof African American English do not express complete thoughts."), whichimplies attitudes that are positive and negative at the same time, i.e.ambivalent. A smaller sub-sample was asked whether they perceived theirattitudes as being ambivalent and whether they would describe themselves as'torn' over this issue. Half of the sub-sample did so, the other half didnot perceive itself as torn over the issue of AAVE. The concept of'code-switching' appeared to have a powerful influence on subjects'reported perceived ambivalence, i.e. on feeling torn on an issue.

In a second study the relationship between contact with linguistics andattitudes toward basilects was tested for the German language community.For this purpose, a pretest-posttest design was used. Attitudes weremeasured via a simplified Likert-scale at the beginning and end sessions ofan introductory linguistics class. Freshmen students from two Germanuniversities served as subjects. No major effect of linguistics onattitudes could be shown for any of the groups.

This thesis creates doubt whether a persuasion-based approach, especiallyone concentrating on transmitting linguistic knowledge, is an effectivemeans to evoke attitude change concerning basilects. Additionally, it putsemphasis on the structure of attitudes toward such varieties. The potentialambivalence of such attitudes has to be taken into consideration, may it bein measuring them, may it be in attempts to change them.

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