[lg policy] dissertation: Teachers' Attitudes Toward African American Vernacular English : Influence of contact with linguistics on ambivalent attitudes

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue May 4 13:53:57 UTC 2010

Teachers' Attitudes Toward African American Vernacular English :
Influence of contact with linguistics on ambivalent attitudes

Institution: Rheinische-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen
Program: English Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Judith Buendgens-Kosten

Dissertation Title: Teachers' Attitudes Toward African American
Vernacular English : Influence of contact with linguistics on
ambivalent attitudes

Dissertation URL: http://darwin.bth.rwth-aachen.de/opus3/volltexte/2009/2936/

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Dissertation Director:
Paul Georg Meyer

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis studies the relationship between American teachers' attitudes
toward African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and the intensity of
their contact with linguistics. Several studies have found negative
attitudes toward this variety, including attitudes of teachers. Negative
attitudes toward a variety can trigger lowered teacher expectations.
According to the Pygmalion Theory, lower expectations can cause lower rates
of scholastic achievement on the side of the student. This is one of the
reasons why methods to influence negative attitudes toward varieties of
English have been the focus of sociolinguistic research for quite some time.

Oftentimes, sociolinguists have assumed that an effect holds between
linguistic knowledge and negative language attitudes. So far, this assumed
relationship has been tested by Blake & Cutler (2003), Abdul-Hakim (2002)
and Bowie & Bond (1994). Only the latter's data supported such a
relationship, but in the other two studies no relation could be found
between contact with linguistics and attitudes toward AAVE.

This thesis tested the assumed relationship between attitudes and
linguistic knowledge using an ex-post-facto research setup. The attitudes
of 171 American teachers, retired teachers, students undergoing teacher
training and teaching assistants were assessed using a 13-item Thurstone
scale. Contact with linguistics was measured via guided self-assessment.
The data showed a significant relationship between response behavior on the
Thurstone scale and the degree of contact with linguistics for several
items. Interestingly, this relationship was not always in the form of
increased contact connected to 'improvements' of attitudes. The response
behavior of subjects was characterized by ambivalence. Generally, subjects
agreed with items that were positioned on distant points of the attitude
continuum. This form of response behavior is evaluatively contradictory,
i.e. subjects agreed with both positive (e.g. "African American English has
a place at the home of its speakers.") and negative items (e.g. "Speakers
of African American English do not express complete thoughts."), which
implies attitudes that are positive and negative at the same time, i.e.
ambivalent. A smaller sub-sample was asked whether they perceived their
attitudes as being ambivalent and whether they would describe themselves as
'torn' over this issue. Half of the sub-sample did so, the other half did
not perceive itself as torn over the issue of AAVE. The concept of
'code-switching' appeared to have a powerful influence on subjects'
reported perceived ambivalence, i.e. on feeling torn on an issue.

In a second study the relationship between contact with linguistics and
attitudes toward basilects was tested for the German language community.
For this purpose, a pretest-posttest design was used. Attitudes were
measured via a simplified Likert-scale at the beginning and end sessions of
an introductory linguistics class. Freshmen students from two German
universities served as subjects. No major effect of linguistics on
attitudes could be shown for any of the groups.

This thesis creates doubt whether a persuasion-based approach, especially
one concentrating on transmitting linguistic knowledge, is an effective
means to evoke attitude change concerning basilects. Additionally, it puts
emphasis on the structure of attitudes toward such varieties. The potential
ambivalence of such attitudes has to be taken into consideration, may it be
in measuring them, may it be in attempts to change them.


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