There was an article in the Guardian recently about a headteacher in the Black Country banning the use of local dialect in school: (http://www.theguardian.com/educa...) He says he's seeing children coming up through nursery with no ''proper'' english and blaming that on a lack of conversations round the dinner table at home. This policy was also implemented in a Croydon school recently in a bid to ''improve speech'': School bans use of slang speech What is your position on the use of dialect in schools? Will banning it really improve general literacy? What does it mean for the speakers of the local dialect? Will it affect how widely the local dialect is spoken or how people feel about it - will it change its status in the community? Will it improve the chances of the children economically, or does it just perpetuate class snobbery and elitism? Is the bad economy being used to more strictly curtail the speech and mannerisms of the poor? Why would that be in anyone's interest, linguistically?

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    Are you asking about slang or dialect? – fdb Feb 17 '14 at 0:53
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    SE sites are generally for asking questions with fact-based answers. I think you ask a very interesting question but my concern is the answers will all be too opinion-based. Could you think of a way to reframe your question to invite fact-based answers? Maybe "What is the justification for banning slang in schools? What evidence supports this? What evidence refutes it?" and so on. – acattle Feb 17 '14 at 1:46
  • If you really want opinions you could also try asking the question on Quora, which is similar in some ways to StackExchange but doesn't have any fact-based answer requirement. – hippietrail Feb 17 '14 at 2:35

I can think of two main factors which would motivate such a decision.

Social Prestige

A diglossia is any situation where two dialects (or languages) exist along side each other in a single region/community. The most obvious example of this would be the co-occurrence in many parts of China of a local Chinese dialect (Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien, etc.) with the standard Mandarin Chinese.

Generally the dialects in a diglossia are split along socio-economic lines, with the upper class' dialect, considered more prestigious, being called the H (high) dialect and the lower class' being called the L (low) dialect (not to be confused with High/Low German, which is an isogloss). Consider the L Birmingham English and the H RP, or the L Black English Vernacular and H Standard American English. Since the H dialect has more prestige, it's natural that humans may [incorrectly] consider this dialect as some how "better" or "more correct" than the L dialect (while linguists view these dialects as merely different). As such, one of the reasons for banning slang in a school is to force children into using the "correct" H dialect.


The UK is hardly the first country to attempt to ban a specific dialect from schools. Since end of the US's racial segregation in the 1960s, many black families have attempted to give their children every advantage possible in a society with lingering racist tendencies. Whether it be by giving them stereotypically "white" sounding names (black comedian Reginald D. Hunter comes to mind) or forcing them to conform to "white" Standard American English.

Sociology and economics indeed show that "sounding black" is a disadvantage in the work force. I do not have any data on regional UK accents vs. earning potential but I suspect a similar trend takes place. Thus, another possible reason for banning slang in school is not necessarily to force children to use the H dialect but to at least make them "bilingual" in the H dialect, giving them an advantage in the work force.

While it is possible that communication barriers may exist between the H and L dialects (look at BEV or how US TV tends to subtitle Scottish English speakers), I fear that this is probably not the reason speakers of the H dialect receive an advantage in the workplace. Generally there is enough interaction between the H and L speakers in a diglossia that they can understand each other readily. Unfortunately, I suspect this is simply a special case of the "social prestige" factor I described above.

Will it Work?

It is difficult to say. On one hand, China's heavy emphasis on Mandarin appears to be slowly eroding the use of many smaller regional Chinese dialects, such as Shanghaiese. In fact, this trend isn't even limited to areas controlled by the Peope's Republic of China.

On the other hand, in the controversy surrounding BEV in US schools, academics (although not necessarily the general population) are starting to favour the embracing of local dialects, proposing "bilingual" approaches as briefly mentioned above. Similarly, the BBC, after years of forcing reporters to use RP (also called "BBC English" for now obvious reasons), is starting to embrace regional accents.

  • 'Since the H dialect has more prestige, it's natural that humans may [incorrectly] consider this dialect as some how "better" or "more correct" than the L dialect (while linguists view these dialects as merely different).' You can say that, but the real reason isn't that the school or its teachers think that the dialect is superior, it's that the vast majority of future employers and other such people will, so it's crucial that pupils are taught how to speak 'properly', for lack of a better word. – Miles Rout Feb 22 '14 at 0:11
  • @MilesRout I kind of address that in the second section. My point for the first section was just that there is a cultural bias towards the H dialect. The fact that the best word you could find was "properly" even though it didn't accurately express your personal opinion is further evidence of that cultural bias. – acattle Feb 22 '14 at 5:41

This is not a scientific account, it may not be accurate, nor am i an expert on the subject. Just what I gathered over the years, for what it is worth, in case it may help.

Fifty years ago (and earlier), it was still a general policy in France to forbid the use of dialects in schools. They had posters against it, and students could be punished for not speaking French.

Now everyone is sorry that many of these dialects are dying (whatever the reason), together with the culture they carried. There are efforts to revive them, and some are even officially taught. Some are actually more than simple dialects.

What was then the socio-cultural purpose? I think it was simple cultural dominance. This was only 2 decades after a time when it was widely believed it was the duty of the country to bring civilisation to other people, especially the colonies. There was little belief in the value of cultural diversity or in the value of other cultures.This was a time when crimes against culture and even against children (deportation) were committed by several "advanced" countries from different continents (I am not referring to war time events).

My position, since you ask, is to let people speak what they will between themselves, but ask them to learn in class what they have to learn. Is it ever good to show disrespect for a culture? You cannot impose a cultural identity by force. But you can make a culture attractive.

Further thought on the issue.

I do not mean that cultural dominance is still the reason today for policy makers. But they also reflect trends in society, and my guess is that a large number of people still believe in uniformity and the role of their superior culture. While the decisions may be taken for the best of reasons, they may be politically viable mostly for less honorable ones (sorry for the value judgement).

However, I am wondering one point about these questions. It may be specific to France but I doubt it. Pretty much, the language spoken is syntax: it expresses thoughts. What about semantics? Of course, semantics cannot be as readily addressed and as easily dealt with. But semantics is significant, and schools are teaching lots of myths and rites that forge the common culture of a people.

In the case of France, the best known myth is probably that the French are all descended from the Gauls. History books in grammar school were alledgedly supposed to start with the sentence "Our ancestors, the Gauls, ...". And since the curriculum was the same in the whole country, including oversea districts and colonies, I suspect the Gauls must have been a powerful people covering the whole planet (but I have no official account or study of actual facts regarding history teaching in French ruled territories). This myth regarding the French ancestry, and other historical myths have been analyzed and traced to a deliberate (?) policy to forge a national identity. Some may be based on actual facts, but that is not really relevant. Possibly the British identity is forged around the royalty, but I do have some doubts that it is the whole story.

My point is that, if one is to analyze linguistic policies in schools, it cannot really be separated from other cultural policies. In particular, it should be put in relation with the kinds of myths and rites that are being taught, explicitly or implicitly, particularly in such matters as national language, litterature, history and geography. And also what is not being taught.

Even mathematics can play a role. How many high school students know that there have been great female mathematicians. They were not many for historical reasons, but still.

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