language as SES marker

Sharon Vaipae lmedu at JPS.NET
Sun Nov 26 06:37:09 UTC 2000

Dear WordMasters,

I have subscribed to the ADS listserve for several years because I enjoy
words, and equally enjoy the how much I learn about them here.

Your suggestions are solicited for a question to which I have not yet found
a satisfactory
answer. I am a public high school teacher from an upper middle-class family
background in Iowa, and thus speak fairly standard English. Many of my
California small-town alternative school students speak varieties of
English which, I was told as a youngster, were "lower class." I refer to
(1) such simple items as double negatives, misuse of pronouns in subjective
and objective cases, ain't, etc.,  (2) use of "be" outside of deliberate
Eubonics (I be tired), and (3) language not quite vulgar, but close to it
(My butt is tired of sitting), and (4) peppering speech with real
vulgarities.  Some feel they HAVE cleaned up their language when they say
"friggin'" or "f-ing" instead of the real thing, or have no idea that
"shit" carries baggage.

These students are generally bright, community college-bound, and with
aspirations of improving their social, familial, and financial situations.
Few yet have encounted situations where their language would be considered
a handicap, or  failed to recognize it when it might have occurred. ("My
boss at Burger King says 'ain't, and he's doin' big money."  "This is the
way I talk, and if nobody don't like it, that be their problem.")

My problem is how to meaningfully explain, without being laughed out of the
classroom, (1) that language like this is a marker of SES and educational
level, and that its use can exclude one from opportunities one might
otherwise have, (2) make the explanation one they can "relate to," and (3)
not offend my students in the process.



Sharon Vaipae           "The truth shall make you odd."
LMedu at                          - Flannery O'Connor
Tracy, CA

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