language as SES marker

Tim Frazer tcf at MACOMB.COM
Mon Nov 27 15:07:54 UTC 2000

You might start by making an honest admission that our choice of "standard"
in any language is almost always the result of one group's lock on political
and economic power.  The dialect spoken in N Iowa and in my hometown in N
Illinois, Inland Northern, became de facto standard because of the economic
and social proclivities of Yankees from the northeast.  They dominated city
and small-town businesses; they felt their culture and Protestant religion
made them superior to others; they also, during the nineteenth century,
dominated the public education system and, probably, publishers.  It is not
fair but it is reality.  (I will here promote the chapter on "Yankee
Cultural Imperialism" in my book HEARTLAND ENGLISH.)

Realize, too, that many changes in English are part of processes which have
been going on since the Norman Invasion of England radically changed
English.  Anglo  Saxon English and other dialects of the time relied on
complex sets of suffixes and a very diverse set of pronouns to make sense.
Even as late as the sixteen century, for example, English still had separate
second-person pronouns for singular (thou) and plural (you).  But English
continues to simply that system: now "you" is both singular and plural.
When kids say "me and him did it," they continue that process of
simplification.  It seems to me to be much more logical than "standard"
English.  We need to teach language arts with an informed attitude.  That

Tim Frazer
----- Original Message -----
From: Sharon Vaipae <lmedu at JPS.NET>
Sent: Sunday, November 26, 2000 12:37 AM
Subject: language as SES marker

> 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
> a satisfactory
> answer. I am a public high school teacher from an upper middle-class
> 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
> 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
> 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
> Sharon Vaipae           "The truth shall make you odd."
> LMedu at                          - Flannery O'Connor
> Tracy, CA

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