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Pat Shultz wrote:

>   I often wonder what will be the long term result of a national
>tolerance for, and encouragement of, extreme dialectical differences in the
>speaking and writing of American English.  Hypothetically at least, one
>possible outcome might be that people from one American state might
>eventually be unable to communicate with people from another.  Or, the
>divided-city syndrome, reminiscent of the Ellis Island immigration era
>might be another result.  How will we communicate with one another?  Sign
>language?  Esperanto?  Quien sabe?


Pat & Don and others,

My point is not that Standard English shouldn't be taught. Of course it
should be taught! But it should be taught in the spirit of offering a tool
with which to succeed in an intolerant world, not in the spirit of calling a
person's regional accent "incorrect."

Please stop perpetuating the myth of the degradation of American English.
There was no golden era of "correct" pronunciation and adherence to rules of
grammar and usage. Rules of grammar for English were only codified in the
late 1800's, and many mistakes of mis-applying Latin grammar to English were
made in the process. Many of these rules(rules against split infinitives and
using a preposition at the end of a sentence, for instance) are still with
us, in spite of having nothing to do with the Queen's English, then, now, or
ever.

Right now in this country there is both a wider use of a "standard" dialect
and less dialectical variation than there has ever been. If anything,
American English is homogenizing faster than it is fracturing.

Again, Teach Standard English, Teach Standard English! It's unfair to
students if you don't. But don't call a person's dialect "incorrect;" in
what sense could it be? Is it the word of God? (Thou shalt speak the
language of thy superiors.) No: it is only the in perceptions of intolerant
people. There are many of these people. There will always be many of these
people. Therefore, we need to help students learn the dialect of the path to
power.

What could possibly be the pedagogical advantage of calling any student's
background incorrect, or a "lack of knowledge." People don't speak a dialect
out of a "lack of knowledge." They speak a dialect because of the presence
of knowlege: the knowledge of their own mother-tongue. That knowledge may
not be the knowledge of privilege, but it is knowledge nonetheless. If you
found yourself in the middle of Bombay, and someone said to you, "Aap to
kahaa jaane chahiye?" Would you decide that the language you know was
"incorrect?" No. You would probably hope you could find a patient English
speaker. Extend the same courtesy to people who don't speak your dialect.

(Incidentally, India has 17 officially sanctioned languages, and hundreds
more dialects that vary much more extremely than those in America. India has
many problems, but you will find very few people in India who blame them on
language differences.)

Steve Runge
Academic Skills Coordinator
St. Lawrence U.
Canton, NY 13617
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