[lg policy] Saying no to 'gizit' is plain prejudice

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Feb 13 16:05:41 UTC 2013

 Saying no to 'gizit' is plain prejudice

A war on dialect will quash curiosity and ideas

Sociolinguists have been fighting dialect prejudice since the 1960s,
but negative and uninformed views about non-standard English are
regaining currency in media and educational debates. Most recently,
Carol Walker, headteacher of a Teesside primary school, wrote a letter
to parents asking that they help tackle the "problem" posed by their
children's use of local dialect by correcting certain words, phrases
and pronunciations associated with Teesside (including "gizit ere" and

Naturally, I support the school's aim of teaching pupils to use
written standard English so that they can progress in future education
and employment. However, focusing on speech will not improve their
writing. There are three reasons why the methods advocated in this
letter are unhelpful and damaging.

First, the letter seems to assume that to teach standard English it is
necessary to erase features of the local dialect. As a native of
Teesside, I recognise several of the so-called "problem" words and
phrases. I still use them, as well as standard English; they're part
of the repertoire of linguistic forms and meanings I and, as my
academic research shows, primary school children in Teesside draw

For example, like me, the children I worked with sometimes used the
banned "gizit". This is a condensed form of "give us it" (it's a
normal process in informal speech that when talk speeds up sounds get
left out). The use of the plural pronoun "us" instead of singular "me"
is common not only in Teesside but in dialects across the
English-speaking world, making a command less demanding. The letter
states that children should say, "Please give me it" as an
alternative, but such commands are quite risky, since they can sound

I find children use "give us it" with friends as a way of softening
the command, by appealing to group solidarity. The same children use
"give me it" and other "standard" alternatives such as "Can I have
it?" and "I need it". It depended on context. Clearly, they had
command of both standard and non-standard forms, using them

Second, the letter is wrong on a number of points. It says that
children should not say "yous" because "you is NEVER plural". This is
simply incorrect: "you" is used for both second person singular and
plural in standard English, but historically, "you" was the plural
form while "thou" was singular. Many languages still differentiate
between second person singular and plural (e.g. tu and vous in
French). Standard English no longer makes this distinction, but many
dialects of English, including Teesside, Newcastle and Liverpool, as
well as Irish English, use "yous" to fill the gap. US English has also
developed similar strategies, using forms such as "y'all" and "yinz"
for second person plural.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to learn and develop, children
must participate actively in classroom discussion; they must think out
loud, answer and ask questions, and challenge each other's and their
teachers' ideas. When teachers focus exclusively on the form of this
talk rather than the substance, children may simply remain silent in
order to avoid the shame of speaking "incorrectly", and miss the
interactions crucial to learning.

Ultimately, it is not the presence or absence of non-standard forms in
children's speech that raise educational issues; rather, picking on
non-standard voices risks marginalising some children, and may make
them less confident at school. Silencing pupils' voices, even with the
best intentions, is just not acceptable.

Dr Julia Snell lectures in Socio-linguistics at King's College,
London; www.snell.me.uk; twitter.com/@SnellJulia


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