Friday, November 15, 2013

Dialect dissing

First it was slang getting slagged off and now it's dialect being dissed. Is this a slippery slope towards linguistic fascism?

We've reported several examples of so-called slang bans on this blog over the last few years - a few are listed below - but in many cases, the definition of what constitutes 'slang' has been pretty broad, and more often than not, just plain wrong. And that's before you even start to look at the whys and wherefores of imposing 'zero-tolerance' policies towards forms of non-standard English.

In The Daily Mirror yesterday, Martin Fricker reported on a school in Halesowen, part of the West Midlands' Black Country, where such a zero-tolerance approach to local dialect had been introduced.

The Daily Telegraph reported it as well, but what is striking in so many of the responses quoted from parents of children at the school is how insulted many of them feel at being told that their variety of English is sub-standard.

Take for example, what parent Alana Willetts was reported as saying: "I got a double A in my English GCSE and I have a Black Country accent. I think it is patronising and insulting to say that people with a Black Country accent are disadvantaged. All the parents are outraged, English is a living language, we can't all talk the same, we don't all speak in ye olde English and new words are being added to the dictionary every day".

Compare that with the language being used to describe the local dialect: language such as "top ten most damaging phrases" and "zero-tolerance", which taps into discourses of punishment and destruction.

Even worse than what the school itself says, are the ways in which the comments below the line pick up the intolerant attitude towards non-standard forms and rapidly extend to damning whole groups of people, areas of the country and even races.

The delightful 'Stew' on The Daily Telegraph site comments "When so many childrens dialect is polluted with west indian slang!.", while 'Coley170'  from the Daily Mirror site gets their geography a tad confused and states "fair I think....they should speak proper English, they won't get anywhere in life speaking Cornish slang" and potential UN ambassador Chris Marshall decides that West Midlanders should be sent home to err....the West Midlands: "If you can not speak the English language then you should be deported".

Me, I'm with Alana Willetts on this, rather than the wrong-headed headteacher of Colley Lane or the backward bigots quoted above.

Edited on Monday 18th November 2013 to add Guardian link

Other links to "slang bans" and dialect discrimination:







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