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Dialect Discrimination

By Hannah Askin - Posted on 07 March 2009

Book citation: English with an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States By Rosina Lippi-Green (1997)

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This book gives a comprehensive and accessible picture of dialect discrimination, without requiring technical linguistic knowledge to understand. Instead, clear descriptions and illustrative examples, including many from the media, help guide lay readers through linguistic issues that may be relevant to them. For instance, Part 1 of the book is a great resource for readers who want to find out about the general ideas behind langauge attitudes.

What is dialect discrimination?

While many forms of discrimination in America today are realized as the injustices they are, dialect discrimination remains acceptable in many realms of society. Dialect discrimination occurs when speakers of different dialects do not share a sense of accepted language forms. That is, all languages and dialects are systematic, and certain rules are applied for speakers to communicate comprehensibly, but these linguistic rules may differ across dialects of the same language.

In schools and the workplace, discrimination against speakers of certain dialects is accepted as the desire that people speak correctly, according to a particular dialect’s set of rules, or socially appropriately. The author calls these “appropriacy arguments.” While all speakers adjust their language according to situation and audience, some discriminate against language minority groups by labeling Nonstandard English as inappropriate outside the home. The dialect most frequently considered correct and formally appropriate is known as the standard language; for English this is Standard English.

Dialect discrimination and the classroom

Chapter 6, "The educational system," focuses on specific issues of how dialect discrimination and appropriacy arguments can come into play in the classroom. The author focuses on language arts textbooks and educational policy. Language arts textbooks tend to group written language norms with spoken language norms, even though in reality the two are very separate. For language arts methods closer to reality, see about the book Language Exploration and Awareness.

Dialect discrimination is everywhere, and in school settings it can have particularly strong effects. For example, teachers, like many others, may subconsciously have lower expectations for students who speak Nonstandard English. This students may react to such expectations with lower levels of performance. The author makes it clear that she is not blaming the individual teacher for the greater society's discrimination. However, teachers are in a special position to reduce the effects of dialect discrimination, which is why this book can be an important one for the pre- or in-service teacher.