Unclear on American Campus: What the Foreign Teacher Said

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sat Jun 25 16:04:44 UTC 2005


In US public schools for generations, I think, some teachers have
misguidedly advised that students with non-standard accents/pronunciations
and/or dialects obtain speech "therapy" so I guess this student was just
being subjected to the usual treatment.  When the less powerful person
gets this advice, they don't have many options, I guess.  My experience in
teaching linguistics over the years is that teachers are the audience
most likely to be resistant to the idea that non-standard language is not
in need of 'correction.'  Now if we could just get the teachers to think
about teaching their students to code-switch when the occasion requires it
(e.g. job interview), we might get somewhere.

One method my wife encountered (she teaches in an inner-city school) was
called "cash talk" i.e., you learn to switch to 'standard' in order to
get more cash i.e. a better job.

Hal S.

On Fri, 24 Jun 2005, Ronald Kephart wrote:

> At 4:36 PM -0400 6/24/05, Harold F. Schiffman wrote:
> >...I think we need to develop tests that focus on both objective
> >issues (e.g. released final consonants) and subjective ones (racism,
> >xenophobia, whatever) and see what might come from this.
> Hal, this turns the topic around a bit, but your excellent post
> reminded me of an incident here a few years back. I gave a talk in an
> anthropology class at the local community college. I talked about
> language, linguistic variation, and so on. One student in the class
> was a young man from West Africa- I forget the country.
> A few weeks afterwards, I ran into this student on my own campus. He
> ran up saying he was so happy to find me. I asked why. He said he
> hoped I could recommend a good speech therapist for him. I asked why
> he thought he needed a speech therapist. He replied that his English
> teacher at the community college told him he needed to see one,
> because she had a hard time understanding him!  I told him that I
> didn't think he needed speech therapy, because he was perfectly
> understandable to me; his worried look evaporated.
> Of course I know some may disagree, arguing that people who have
> strongly marked accents might benefit from speech therapy, but I in
> principle I am opposed unless there's a real pathology involved.
> The one factor I can think of uniting my example with the thread
> topic is the power differential: American students with a foreign
> teacher; American teacher with foreign student. I wonder if this
> differential doesn't predispose the participants toward some kind of
> lopsided mutual intelligibility.
> Ron

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