Dialect readers redux?

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In a recent article Patriann Smith, a professor of Language, Diversity and Literacy Studies at Texas Tech, makes a bold proposal: that "nonstandard Englishes" such as African American English (AAE) and Hawai'i Creole English be used as the primary language of instruction in educating children who speak them. ("A Distinctly American Opportunity: Exploring Non-Standardized English(es) in Literacy Policy and Practice", Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9/12/2016) Smith reviews evidence that speaking "nonstandard English" (her term) as a first language interferes with children's educational progress, given the way children are taught and progress is assessed. She also questions the privileged status accorded to the "standard" (aka mainstream, higher status) dialect of English (SAE) used in education, business, government, and other institutions, and the traditional view of literacy as the ability to read that dialect. Hence the proposal that children be taught in their native dialect whether "standard" or not.

In this post I'll look at some implications of this proposal for learning to read. The idea that children who speak AAE (or another nonstandard dialect) might benefit from being taught to read using materials written in their dialect isn't new.  Some 40 years ago there was a brief, a mostly-forgotten educational experiment with "dialect readers".  They weren't widely accepted then.  Has their time finally come?

Smith's article is gaining some traction: It was picked up by the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS), a major advocacy group, and an article about using AAE for instruction will appear in The Atlantic magazine some time soon. Many of her observations are accurate and yet her proposal raises difficult, contentious issues, including ones that fall outside the greater Language Log topical area (e.g., who would be willing or able to teach in such programs? Would they create race and language based tracking? Would they be legal?)

The evidence that amount of AAE usage is negatively related to progress in learning to read is substantial (see, e.g., Gatlin & Wanzek, "Relations Among Children's Use of Dialect and Literacy Skills: A Meta-Analysis," Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 2015, and articles cited therein). The basic reason is simple: Books are written in the mainstream dialect. Every beginning reader's progress depends on familiarity with this code. Greater use of AAE is usually (though not always) associated with weaker knowledge of the mainstream dialect. The children then have more difficulty learning to read than do mainstream dialect speakers.

Dialect readers were intended to address this disparity.

"Bridge—A cross-cultural reading program" by Simpkins, Holt, & Simpkins from 1977 consisted of five pamphlet-length books. They were written as remedial texts for older children, not beginning readers. The first few stories were written in "Black vernacular." Here's a screenshot from Book 1. Over the course of the series, stories written in "standard English" gradually replaced the Black vernacular ones. The thinking was that the child would initially benefit from language similar to their own speech, and then transition to reading the standard dialect.

The design of the Bridge series is explained in an article by Simpkins & Simpkins in the 1981 proceedings of a conference at Wayne State University ("Black English and the education of Black children and youth: Proceedings of the national invitational symposium on the King decision"). The "King decision" is better known as the Ann Arbor decision, the famous case (Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School Children et al. v. Ann Arbor School District) about the education of lower income Black youth in the Ann Arbor schools.  Judge Charles W. Joiner (an African American) described, with remarkable linguistic insight, how dialect differences could affect children's education.  The judge ordered the school district to identify Black English speakers and to "use that knowledge in teaching such students how to read standard English".

The Wayne State meeting brought together experts in education, law, literature (James Baldwin attended) and other areas to consider how to create educational practices better matched to African American language and culture in accord with the Ann Arbor decision.  The Bridge readers were a serious attempt to accomplish this for reading. I found the proceedings very moving, an account of people attempting to develop novel solutions to urgent educational problems with little research or precedent to build on, and also revelatory, because they identified basic issues that still haven't been adequately addressed (e.g., the need for teachers to be educated about language variation and strategies for accommodating it; meeting the educational needs of African American children).

Bridge readers didn't get very far. They weren't widely adopted, it wasn't clear whether they were effective, and other research from that era suggesting that dialect differences have little impact on reading or school achievement undercut the rationale for the books and killed off interest in them. The Oakland Ebonics controversy (1996-97) made it harder to incorporate AAE in instruction.

Now there is stronger evidence that AAE usage can interfere with learning to read standard texts and a proposal to use AAE in the classroom. Do dialect readers merit a second chance?

These issues are genuinely intersectional, involving race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and history. Let's set aside those factors long enough to look at the linguistic, psycholinguistic, and educational considerations.  The approach is consistent with some common educational tenets. The Bridge authors recognized that books that were more closely connected to students' experience might encourage deeper engagement, a tenet of what is now called culturally-relevant instructional practice.  Using one type of material as a bridge to another is a fundamental instructional strategy. Books for beginning readers are often written in "nonstandard" English: Run, run. Run, Dick, run. Run and see. That Sam-I-am, that Sam-I-am! I do not like that Sam-I-am.  Books can also be written in a nonstandard dialect, and the Bridge readers could be updated.

Although the logic was clear, the approach nonetheless seems seriously flawed. Here are a few major concerns.

1. The goal of dialect readers was to develop children's ability to read standard texts, using stories that incorporated elements of AAE as a transitional tool. The books focused on getting children into reading despite limited knowledge of SAE. But if the goal is being able to read such texts, the linguistic gap has to be filled. Dialect readers didn't address this.

The problem with dialect readers is that the children's problem isn't reading; it's knowledge of the language the books employ.  An alternative approach might be to focus on increasing the child's familiarity with that language (for example, via language enrichment activities in pre-K and after).  Or, the opposite: drop the goal of being able to read standard-language texts, as Smith considers, a radical step that raises many other questions.

2. The concept of writing a book in African American English seems straightforward but what would it involve? American English has numerous regional variants and dialects. No one speaks the "standard American English" used in texts.  Illustration: people don't talk the way this post is written; I certainly don't. Texts are written in a more or less conventionalized version of English that exists mainly because of the ways that texts are used in education, government, business, etc.  Social, historical, political, and economic factors are also involved.  (See previous Language Log posts such as:

"Trevor Noah reflects on language and identity", 12/1/2016
"Mutual unintelligibility among Sinitic lects," 10/5/2014
"About those dialect maps making the rounds…", 6/6/2013
"Understanding across varieties of English," 8/1/2013

and many others.)

AAE also has numerous regional variants (Wolfram & Kohn, "Regionality in the development of African American English"). However, because it is an oral dialect, they aren't anchored to a "standard" version. Prescriptivist dialecticians would have to create one—and then figure out how to render it orthographically and get people to adopt it. Given the regional variants and large individual differences in dialect density, a text written in Standard AAE would still vary in how well it aligned with children's own speech.

3. Would dialect readers be effective?  For whom? Judged by what criteria? Compared to which alternative approaches?  The answers aren't known.

There is no credible evidence concerning the effectiveness of dialect readers, though advocates of the approach can point to some suggestive findings. In "Dialect readers revisited," Rickford & Rickford offered several encouraging anecdotes about the use of the readers, and described the results of two suggestive "mini studies" that were not published elsewhere.

Smitherman (2015), "African American Language and Education: History and Controversy in the Twentieth Century," describes the results of a more substantive study in which 413 children used Bridge readers and 137 used another "remedial reading" program.  When tested after 4 months of instruction,  children who used the Bridge readers were said to have made much more progress than the other children.

The source for these findings is the 1981 Simpkins & Simpkins article mentioned above.  It is another unpublished study that can't be assessed because so little is known about the methods and data.  These findings nonetheless have been repeatedly cited as evidence that dialect readers worked but were abandoned prematurely. They are also repeated because other evidence is lacking.  Evaluating the effectiveness of reading curricula and instructional practices is a notoriously challenging task. Intriguing but unverifiable findings from several decades ago aren't an adequate basis for adopting an approach.  They might at best justify conducting additional studies, if researchers could find enough children, parents, teachers, and educational authorities willing to participate.

The conceptual problems with the dialect reader approach seem insuperable to me, and the prospects for adopting them in the present political context seem remote. However, the pressures to improve literacy outcomes are such that novel, untested educational approaches are often implemented in case they might work. Nor is there evidence that the approach can't be effective in principle. I am not a speaker of a minority dialect and the decision is not mine to make. But the logic of the dialect reader approach is questionable and the evidence that it is effective and superior to other approaches is lacking.

The title of Smith's article frames these issues as "distinctly American" but that isn't entirely accurate. American circumstances are unique but the linguistic phenomena are not.  Dialects exist in languages, not just in English, and there are low status "nonstandard" dialects spoken by lower SES minority populations in other countries. Australia and Canada have programs in which speakers of minority dialects learn mainstream English as a second dialect (Siegel, Second Dialect Acquisition), analogous to learning English as a second language. Language Log readers will undoubtedly be familiar with circumstances elsewhere.

These issues are a reminder that language variation and dialect are not widely understood despite decades of basic research. Non-mainstream dialects are still commonly perceived as "bad English," even by people who speak them. Teachers are conflicted about whether to correct their students' use of a nonstandard dialect. The linguistic integrity of dialects is not clearly distinguished from their sociolinguistic status. Dialect variation needs to be addressed in education, as Judge Joiner stated years ago. But dialect readers are unproved. At this point, introducing them would be like conducting a large, unregulated behavioral experiment.  This country has a long history of experimenting on minority and low income individuals without their knowledge or consent, and educational experiments raise the same ethical concerns.



26 Comments

  1. Mark Meckes said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 12:40 pm

    I'm often frustrated by the lack of discussion, in such contexts, of what the experience of other countries may have to teach us, if anything. As noted in the penultimate paragraph, many other languages have dialects. More than that, in many other countries there are local "dialects" that may be better described as separate languages from the national standard, to the extent that no one can ignore their distinct identities. (Here I'm not thinking so much of the obvious-for-Language Log example of China, but places more like Germany and Italy.) Whereas in the US, it is historically somewhat controversial (among the general public, I mean) even to dignify AAE with the label "dialect".

    So when I read of proposals like this, I wonder: has public education in, say, Italy been tried using a local oral dialect which is mutually intelligible with, but different from standard Italian? And if so, how did it go?

  2. Bev Rowe said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 1:48 pm

    In London we have schools where there are over 100 first languages spoken. Obviously all these children's education is handicapped by them having to learn in standard English. But they are all taught in mixed classes. There would no practical way of separating out the groups, even the larger ones such as Bengalis and Somalis.

    What proportion of AA children are taught in classes consisting entirely of AAE speakers?

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 1:50 pm

    The approach of most European countries, going back to the rise of universal compulsory education, has been to use the public education system to inculcate the standard variety of the national language and (depending on who you ask) either: a) stigmatize the local dialect or b) promote social mobility by ensuring that students will be able to code-switch between dialect and standard, and not be stuck in the same low-on-the-totem-pole social niche their ancestors were. Perhaps also relevantly, I believe the approach of virtually all of the Anglophone countries in the Caribbean is to use standard English with West Indian phonology (and British orthography) in school, although the kids mostly natively speak as L1 a creole that is much much farther from standard/prestige English than AAVE is. Doesn't mean those other countries are right (and it's often clear they're using public education as a mechanism for top-down centralized social control, so if you have different goals for a school system you might find their practices irrelevant or unhelpful), but it's not like the U.S. is an outlier.

    When did AAVE turn into AAE, at least in some circles? I'm old enough to remember when it turned from BVE into AAVE. John McWhorter's latest book ("Talking Back, Talking Black," which I found a worthwhile read which taught me at least a few new things about the topic) just calls it "Black English," which I guess is supposed to sound less bureaucratic and fuddy-duddy.

  4. R Steinmetz said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 2:01 pm

    I wonder if you can separate the educational outcomes of AAE speakers from the socio-economic reality. It has been widely understood for a long time that children from low income families have many disadvantages learning. Language is one for a large segment of that group. There is a huge overlap between the two groups. There are other cultural factors, including an active resistance to the dominant culture in some. On the other hand it seems fairly certain that most AAE speakers have pretty extensive contact with "Standard English" through mass entertainment media.

  5. Robert Davis said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 7:29 pm

    I know nothing about this question, but I ask what were the results in southern Germany with kids who spoke Swabish and were taught in hoch Deutsch?

  6. Jim Breen said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 8:29 pm

    The discussion made me think of Indonesia where there are many languages including the major Javanese with nearly 100M speakers. The nation's founders decided to make the Malay-based lingua franca Bahasa Indonesia the national language and to mandate its use in education, media, etc. partly as a vehicle for unifying the country. For the most part it has worked, and limited the sense that a Javanese elite runs the country.

    I can't help feeing that moves to adopt AAE or any other variant of English in education would work against the unity of the US as a nation.

  7. Levantine said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 8:34 pm

    The Greeks and Turks of Cyprus are educated in the standard varieties of their respective languages but speak their own dialects among themselves. As other comments above indicate, this kind of situation is not at all uncommon, and I know of many cases of children who begin school not knowing any variety of the language in which they're being taught (this was my own experience starting school in London as a child who spoke only Turkish). All this leads me to think that the educational disadvantages faced by speakers of AAE have far more to do with such factors as socio-economic hardship and institutionalised racism. To deny them the same linguistic education as non-Black speakers of English (many of whom also speak minority or regional accents/dialects) seems strangely paternalistic to me.

  8. AntC said,

    April 26, 2017 @ 9:23 pm

    @Jim Breen the unity of the US as a nation

    The what? There seems to be vanishing little unity even amongst speakers of SAE.

  9. Bob Ladd said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 12:53 am

    I agree with Levantine and R Steinmetz that the real problem is social and economic, not linguistic. Another example of a place where almost everybody learns to read and write in a language/dialect that is not what they normally speak is German-speaking Switzerland. For most purposes and in most contexts, dialectally variable "Swiss German" is what *everybody* speaks; but the written form, except for various special effects like dialect poetry, clever names of pubs and shops, and certain quite limited forms of advertising, is inevitably standard German (Hochdeutsch, or Schriftdeutsch as it's often called in Switzerland). I'm not aware that there is a literacy problem anywhere in Switzerland, nor are there the same kinds of glaring inequalities that disfigure the US.

  10. tangent said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 1:23 am

    I've been under the impression that a kindergarten-age child can pretty readily acquire an entire L2 by immersion in a school where it's spoken. Is that actually harder than I think? Or is bidialectalism a different situation?

  11. boynamedsue said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 1:47 am

    As a native speaker of a non-standard British dialect, I feel very strongly both that this approach will not work (on its own terms) and that it must be implemented immediately.

    The main problem with the dialect used in education is not that it is inaccessible to those of us who do not speak it, though it does slow our acquisition of reading skills in comparison with our peers who are raised speaking it. The problem is that the absence of our dialect from the space of education is a clear message that our native language is worthless and we are inferior. The space of education is owned by others and we are intruders who are tolerated only so far as we acculturate to their values.

    What we say is wrong, what our parents say is wrong, the way we think is wrong, what we love is wrong, we are wrong. We change or we resist, and it's a horrible thing for a child to be forced to do either way.

    So I would welcome any initiative that allows people to feel that their native tongue has equal worth and merit as an expression of human intellect, as long as that approach can not be proven to have negative effects on the people concerned. I feel this is especially important for the black community in America due to their undoubted marginalisation in society and the frequent and freely expressed prejudice that exists against AAVE.

    [(MarkS) Thanks so much for this comment. Your points are absolutely essential. My post illustrates the hazard of only discussing parts of a complex issue. There's a long history of racist characterizations of Black speech in this country; teachers (among others) do make negative attributions about AAE speakers, consistent with your observations. Research showing that speaking AAE makes it harder to succeed in school (because, e.g., it increases the complexity of tasks such as learning to read) can be seen as reinforcing negative perceptions of AAE and AAE speakers. Suggesting that children would benefit from greater exposure to the mainstream dialect prior to school can be as well. "Correcting" a child's use of AAE can also convey that the child's speech is inferior. I go into these issues elsewhere.

    As an educator and scientist I believe that broader understanding of the basic facts is necessary to combat linguistic prejudice and address educational inequality. Researchers in linguistics, psycholinguistics, reading, and bilingualism could do more in this regard. Teacher education programs in this country go part way, emphasizing the need to recognize cultural and linguistic variability and common prejudices, but they equivocate about the implications for educational practice. Is the ability to read and speak MAE an essential educational goal? Can that goal be attained in a manner that does not denigrate the child, dialect, or culture? That goal could be abandoned but would using AAE in the classroom and pursuing "alternative literacies" promote the interests of a minority population or entrench economic inequality? Most important, who gets to decide? The affected populations or educational authorities? Will you, boynamedsue, be included in that discussion (in your part of the world)?

    AAE is already in the classroom: it's what many children and teachers speak. The questions center on how to incorporate it. Dialect readers are problematic, but there are other options to consider (e.g., developing children's meta-linguistic knowledge of dialect differences and abilities to code switch). We also need to know how much speaking AAE affects education, for which children, under which circumstances? That points to yet another challenge: insufficient empirical evidence about an understudied population.

    I hope to take up some of these issues in future posts.]

  12. boynamedsue said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 2:08 am

    @Mark Meckes

    "So when I read of proposals like this, I wonder: has public education in, say, Italy been tried using a local oral dialect which is mutually intelligible with, but different from standard Italian? And if so, how did it go?"

    Public education in Italy has always been conducted in Italian except in areas where the local "dialect" is considered to be a "dialect" of another language, principally Val d'Aosta and Trentino. As I understand it in those regions there is extra time dedicated to the local language, but schooling is still mostly in Italian.

    It is actually a mistake to think local dialects are mutually intelligible in Italy. Milanese, Neapolitan and Italian are not mutually intelligible, and I'd say that the only Italian dialects we could really say are analogous to the situation of AAVE and Standard English are the Tuscan dialects. In reality, what Italians call "dialetti" are languages by any rational standard, if Italy used the same definition of "a language" as Spain, there'd be about 50 of them in the Peninsula, and another ten on the islands.

  13. Vera Kempe said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 4:40 am

    Just to note that Scottish education for some years has actively been promoting literacy in Scots, which — controversially — some consider a different language rather than a dialect. These efforts are laudable in terms of overcoming social stigmatisation, and refer back to Scots literary traditions, e.g. Robbie Burns etc. However, I am not aware of any systematic follow-ups as to whether this approach alleviates problems in literacy acquisition of dialect speakers. The difficulties are that there are different sub-varieties of Scots (e.g. Lallan, Dundonian, Doric etc.) and that the dialect orthography is not standardised. A recent systematic comparison of translation of a popular children's book into various Scots dialects that we conducted in my lab revealed substantial spelling inconsistencies as each author renders the phonology as they see fit. Still, it could be argued that by linking reading and spelling to the more familiar variety, even without lack of standardised spelling, children may become more adept at phoneme-grapheme conversion and improve their understanding of the alphabetic principle. But of course, this is an empirical question.

  14. Prosper Noah said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 7:48 am

    Well, I don't have much to say here but considering the fact that in my place here in Nigeria, we take on the AAE.

    Though kids are fond of the America Language.
    Thanks for sharing this, this' actually my first visit to your site.

  15. Anthony said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 7:53 am

    In 1916, compulsory military service was thought to be a way to wean people from the influence of "dialect press":

    http://www.expo98.msu.edu/people/dewey.htm

  16. Dan Lufkin said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 11:44 am

    Isn't education in dialect going to run into the problem of textbooks for subjects other than reading? I recall that the Republic of Ireland originally tried to use Irish as the primary language of instruction but was hampered by a lack of Irish texts in many subjects in the curriculum. Who publishes arithmetic textbooks in AAV? Who wants a child's knowledge of factual history to be based on the story of Shine? Sure, there are niche occupations where the ability to rap will support a family but mass education for niches doesn't make economic sense.

    I'm also reminded here of the post-secondary situation in many small-language communities, Denmark, for instance. Even though there are a few million Danish speakers, there just aren't enough Danish-only advanced physics students to support Danish editions of the needed texts. Will an AAV education equip a student to take a basic accounting course?

  17. Levantine said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 2:12 pm

    Dan Lufkin, for reasons too obvious to enumerate, it's problematic and reductive to conflate AAE with rap, and doing so adds nothing to the debate.

  18. Sandra wilde said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 3:14 pm

    I'm a literacy education professor. The idea of using texts in AAVE to teach children to read has been dead for decades, although there is however a strong movement for all classrooms in American schools to provide children's literature representing varied American cultures and vernaculars, including African American, Latino, and immigrant. The differences between AAVE and other versions of American English are minor, and with a meaning-focused teaching approach using readable texts cause basically no more problems than a British text would for a young american reader.

    [(MarkS) They have been dead, there is interest in reviving them, it's not a good idea in my view but opinions vary. Differences between AA(V)E and other versions of English vary; depends on density of dialect and what's being compared. If the difs are negligible, amount of AAE vs. MAE usage shouldn't have strong impact on learning, but it does.
    Using a minority dialect in instruction, reading is a different issue than using culturally varied literature, honoring cultural differences etc. The proper analogy is to "British text" written in e.g. Midlands English or Scottish English.]

  19. BZ said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 3:25 pm

    Why is it that immigrants to the US who don't get the privilege of reading in their own language pick up English just fine with just a year of ESL, which itself is taught without any use of any language besides English? Is it because dialects like AAE are close enough to "standard" English that the two interfere with each other?

    I remember as a kid back in Russia picking up a radio station broadcasting in some non-Russian Slavic language. It was a really unsettling experience because, to my ears, they were speaking Russian, but using vocabulary that I almost entirely didn't know. I wonder if that's what it's like to try to read standard English while being used to a different dialect..

  20. DS said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 4:37 pm

    @Bob Ladd: agree that there is no literacy problem in Switzerland. But there was quite a heated debate whether kids should speak Hochdeutsch in Kindergarten a couple of years ago. Apparently, learning standard German feels like a foreign language when you grow up with Swiss dialect. The four year old who asked whether my Hochdeutsch was English clearly thought so too.

  21. Jason said,

    April 27, 2017 @ 8:29 pm

    Any professor with "diversity" in their job title is going to be completely uninterested in the scientific evidence one way or another, and will be promoting dielect readers as a matter of dogma. I don't have access to the article but her abstract is full of the codewords that indicate an ideological approach. So your fair and balanced review will fall on deaf ears here.

    I would question lumping AAVE and Hawaiian creole in the same category. Basolectal Hawaiian creole, to the extent it still exists of course, is sufficiently divergent that it deserves to be considered a completely separate language to English and presents the same issues as other native language instruction situations. AAVE is not. The comically inept and intellectually dishonest Portland baseline essay that created the whole "Ebonics" controversy in the 1990s attempted to argue that "Ebonics" was an entirely different language to English, "genetically based", and failing to instruct black children in it was akin to expecting Spanish speaking students to understand English language instruction. This is of course not true. The differences are minor and children who speak AAVE grow up surrounded by standard English on TV programs and movies and have no serious difficulty understanding it. We have overwhelming evidence for this.

    I suspect Smith is simply attempting to rebrand the old "Ebonics" push as a form of "diversity enhancement" advocacy but it's still the same tired idea. I have no objection to texts in non-standard Englishes being used in the classroom. However Smith's abstract is all about lambasting the "privileged" status of standard English -ironically in a form of turgid, academic prose full of left-ideological code-words that virtually no-one grows up speaking natively and is sufficiently exlusionary that I have never really successfully mastered it. The point is that "standard English" is not any more a monolithic thing than nonstandard English, that it contains dozens of sub-dielects: Standard Mathematical English ("Let q be a homomorphism over the ring of dirichelet convolutions…") is no more comprehensible to someone growing up speaking "standard" English than a non-standard variety, and must be learned by both categories of English speaking students as a kind of foreign language in any case. So my privilege in speaking something close to the "standard" variety I feel is very small. And yes, the ability to read this dialect is absolutely key to literacy because that's where the fucking knowledge is.

    To do justice to the issues of "diversity" advocacy of nonstandard English requries an essay, but I will say that if Smith simply wants to help bridge students into learning to speak and understand standard American academic English, I have no objection except the evidence for this approach is as weak as it was in 1997. It seems more to be about fetishising the concept of diversity for its own sake, though.

  22. boynamedsue said,

    April 28, 2017 @ 12:56 am

    @MarkS

    Thank you so much for your detailed response, I see we are on the same page. Thanks for pointing out the past articles, I look forward to the future ones.

    If only there were more interest in non-standard English in English and Welsh schools, the fact this even talked about in the US shows you are way ahead of us.

  23. Dan Lufkin said,

    April 28, 2017 @ 9:55 am

    @Levantine — To understand how AAE works you can no more ignore rap than you can ignore DuBose Heyward's low-country lyrics for Porgy and Bess. Clear your mind of preconceptions and listen to rap analytically, as though it were a Farsi epic being recited by a tribal bard with five thousand lines in memory. Some of the best contemporary English poetry is represented by rap.

    And note that "Shine" is listed in Wikipedia as an ethnic slur. I was amazed to see it flaunted in children's reading.

  24. Mark Seidenberg said,

    May 22, 2017 @ 4:22 pm

    It was written by African Americans for African Americans.

  25. Levantine said,

    April 29, 2017 @ 1:29 am

    Dan Lufkin, you're arguing against a position I never took in the first place.

  26. Herman Cao said,

    May 1, 2017 @ 8:46 pm

    "So when I read of proposals like this, I wonder: has public education in, say, Italy been tried using a local oral dialect which is mutually intelligible with, but different from standard Italian? And if so, how did it go?"I agree with Levantine and R Steinmetz that the real problem is social and economic, not linguistic. Another example of a place where almost everybody learns to read and write in a language/dialect that is not what they normally speak is German-speaking Switzerland. For most purposes and in most contexts, dialectally variable "Swiss German" is what *everybody* speaks; but the written form, except for various special effects like dialect poetry, clever names of pubs and shops, and certain quite limited forms of advertising, is inevitably standard German (Hochdeutsch, or Schriftdeutsch as it's often called in Switzerland). I'm not aware that there is a literacy problem anywhere in Switzerland, nor are there the same kinds of glaring inequalities that disfigure the US.

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