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The main impact of Afro-American dialect on education has not been its structural differences from standard English, nor its relative intrinsic usefulness as a medium of thought, but its function as a low-status stigma and its association with a rejected culture. The attitudes of teachers toward this dialect and of dialect speakers toward the teachers’ language have affected the social relationships of children with the schools in such a way as to make education of many children almost impossible. Black children of rural southern background have entered the urban schools to find that nearly everything they said was branded as ‘wrong’. In order to be ‘right’ they had to adopt forms that seemed alien even when they were able to learn how to use them. Their own spontaneous products were punished and treated as worthless, including the only language they knew really well.
Jane Torrey, ‘Illiteracy in the ghetto’, Harvard Educational Review, 40(2), May 1970; republished in Tinker, Tailor: The Myth of Cultural Deprivation (1973), edited by Nell Keddie.
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Yan tan tethera pethera pimp: old sheep-counting systems in the UK
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It took some 400 years — roughly 1400 to 1800 — for a clear notion of a unified, national, standard English to emerge. Ironically, as soon as it arrived, it began to fragment. American English introduced a partly different set of norms in spelling, punctuation, vocabulary and grammar that would become highly influential. Today world English presents us with a number of different standards reflecting the identities of the countries that have adopted the language as a lingua franca. The differences should not be exaggerated: a solid common core of usage still unifies the various dialects and styles. But increased regional, social and ethnic diversity has introduced a huge amount of stylistic variation.
David Crystal, Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices (British Library, 2010)
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From the point of view of social justice it is very sad that one pronunciation should confer social advantage or prestige and that another should bear a stigma. It would be much more equitable if we could all pronounce in our native way with no feelings of guilt or smugness, of underdog or overdog. However, language does not itself shape society, rather the reverse, and in language, particularly in pronunciation and the attitudes it evokes, we may see a faithful reflection of the society in which we live. If it is true, as we surmised earlier, that younger speakers pay less attention to correctness and prestige in pronunciation this may well be a sign, and a welcome one, of change in our social attitudes.
J. D. O’Connor, Phonetics (1973)
No 1 uses the old place names now they ben unspoak this long time but mos of them are stil there in the places. You know Cambry ben Canterbury in moufs long ago. Canterbury. It has a zanting in it like a tall man dantsing and time back there ben foun there girt big music pipes as big as fents poals peopl said. You try to think of how it musve soundit when the Power Ring ben there and working not jus crummelt stannings and a ditch. It musve ben some girt jynt thing hy hy up and with a shyning and a flashing to it time back way back when they had boats in the air and all the res of it. Did it woosh and hum or ben it dumming and beating like the hart of the worl and what ben the music come out of them pipes? You dont know nor you wont never know.
Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker