Sociolinguistics & Education

Jonathan Smart
Kathleen Byrne
What is Educational Sociolinguistics?
Educational sociolinguistics is the subfield of
sociolinguistics dealing with relationships
between language and education.
Research examines:
• Relationships within classrooms
• Informal education
• Community- centered instruction
• Media/Long-distance education
In every society there is information that members
need to know, and skills they need to acquire in
order to meet the responsibilities and obligations
of citizenship.
• Supervised by elders
• Assigned to a local
• Ceremonies mark
entrance into adulthood
• Knowledge may not be
consistent with what is
• Imitation of skilled
artisans for continuation
of arts & crafts
Encouragement of
community centered
learned in the home or
Home/school language &
cultural differences are
one source of educational
Classroom Language
• Language is heavily regulated
o Teacher talk dominates in the classroom
o Teacher determines the topic and each
student’s right to speak on that topic
o Students must maintain the teacher’s
language expectations, otherwise their right
to speak is terminated
‘Old Ironsides’ (Dorr-Bremme 1984)
Classroom Language
• Conflicting Definitions of Purpose:
o Oral communication
 More context
Less repetition and
More fragmented
o Written communication
Less context dependent
Lots of repetition and
 Letter to a pen-pal (Soloman 1995)
Structure & Culture in Classroom
• Typically question-asking & answering
• Mehan’s IRE structured sequence
– Initiation usually by the teacher in the form of
a request for information
– Response from one of the students
– Evaluation of the response by the teacher
followed by a request for more information or
a new IRE sequence
Disadvantage & Classroom
• Differences between classroom language
and home/community language and
cultural differences create problems in the
– Ute cultural language expectations
– Class/Race expectations
• Activity
The Ways with Words
• Heath (1983) in SC compared home language of
m-class whites, w-class blacks, and w- class
M-class whites read with children and ask
W-class whites read to their children (fewer
W-class blacks no reading or one-on-one
exchanges, but encourage autonomous thought.
Basil Bernstein’s Research
• Students from different social and economic
backgrounds respond differently to classroom
• Speakers learn the language that is relevant to
their social status thereby learning the
requirements and restrictions that regulate
behavior within that social position. These he
termed ‘codes’
Elaborated Codes
Elaborate Codes
Associated with the
middle- class
Access to a wide range of
syntactic and semantic
Encouraged to use these
options in imaginative and
unpredictable ways
As a result they have a
precise, highly creative, &
richly expressive speech
Examples of Use
Ability to conceptually
organize experiences
Favors complex sentences
Employs a large vocabulary
by using all parts of speech
Restricted Codes
Restricted Codes
• Associated with the
working- class & other
marginalized groups
• Access to a limited range
of linguistic options
• As a result they have a
limited range of
opportunities within
Examples of Use
• Uses minimal linguistic
– Sentences are usually short
– Links between sentences
are repetitive and
predictable (and then, so,
– Infrequent & un-detailed
use of adjectives & adverbs
• Often elicit constant
confirmation for their
– You know
Results of Bernstein’s Work
• ‘Deficit Hypothesis’
– Poor performance of minority and workingclass students due to a language deficit or
‘verbal deprivation’
– Equivalent to not having a language
– Schools attempted to ‘teach language’
Viewed as being racially motivated
Stereotypically assumed the varieties of English
used by minority were inferior
Labov’s Research
• Revealed the logic behind the non-
standard AAVE use of the verb: to be
– AAVE sentences that allow the deletion of the
verb be correspond to SAE sentences that use
the contracted form of the verb be
• She --- the first one & She’s the first one
– AAVE sentences that do not allow the deletion
of the verb be, are equivalent to SAE
sentences where contractions are not allowed
• *Who’s it? & Who --- it?
Persistent Problems
• Trudgill
– Problem lies with
school expectations
– School system should
change in order to be
more flexible to adapt
to the needs of the
• Bourdieu
– Argues that the
problem is not in the
stratified codes that
promote disadvantage
– Schools are used for
‘social reproduction’,
meaning they are used
to maintain class
structure to restrict
student’s future
opportunities for
Continued Effects of
Classroom Language
The power, regulation, and control of
classroom language is shown through
teacher-student communication and is
central to the students’ success or failure
Dialect & Language Choice
In the Classroom
• Which should be language of instruction?
• Easy in monolingual countries (except for
classical languages)
• Questions of choosing language of
instruction is linked to “possibilities of
social and educational change” (Mesthrie
p. 368).
UNESCO: Vernacular in Education
• Committee 1951-1953 published report
(see Mesthrie 369-370), reconsidering the
validity of ‘vernaculars.’
• Critics objected to impracticality of many
of the committee’s suggestions.
• Balance capability of extant language to
deal with education with advantages of
using ‘mother tongue’
Very Smooth Transition
Language attitudes, motivation,
and standards
• McGroarty (1996) “Language is an
intimate part of social identity”
• Teachers must balance teaching
responsibility w/ respect for language that
students bring to class.
• In examining motivation, etc, hard to
determine what are results vs. causes
Students are affected by:
1. Effective strategies for learning
2. Attitudes/examples of peers, teachers,
parents towards language study
3. Social/Institutional language policies as
reflected in classroom
4. Status of the language in society
5. Personal attitudes & motivations of
students themselves and teachers.
• Attitude: “involves beliefs, emotional
reactions, and behavioral tendencies
related to the object of the attitude” (p 5).
• Motivation: “combination of desire and
effort made to achieve a goal” (p 5)
Measuring the abstract
• Gardner & Lambert (1959, 1972) gave
self-report questionnaires about the
language, the language speakers, etc.
• Then subjects were asked to rate
speakers’ samples based on unrelated
qualities, judging between language
varieties (but actually same speakers).
Orientation Index
• Index of motivation: initial distinction, still
widely used in psychology:
• Intrinsic motivation: based within the
• Extrinsic motivation: individual’s
perception of external rewards for action
Motivation constructs
• Orientations of motivation:
• Integrative: the desire to be like and interact
with speakers of the target language.
Instrumental: desire to learn language to
achieve a goal such as academic/occupational
success (p 7)
Later Research: Orientation is indirect i/o direct
influence on achievement (p 8)
New Research (Baker, 1992)
• Indicators of attitude: gender, age,
language background, type of school
attended, local youth culture, etc.
• These factors shape attitudes, which are
also influenced by language ability.
Problems with Research
• Question of causality
• Operational definitions (of motivation) are
too narrow to apply.
• “Classroom is treated generically” (p 9).
Recent Methods
• Newer studies correlate questionnaires
with self-reported risk taking.
• Newer research has made an effort to
integrate broader (beyond the L2
classroom) personality factors (e.g. using
Meyers-Brigg type indicators).
• Tried to incorporate general educational,
industrial-occupational, and social learning
Summary Relationship
Language learning depends on the
interaction between 3 broad factors:
1. The Person and relevant indicators
2. The Nature of Instruction Received
3. The Broader Language Learning Context
Enter DVD
Accommodation Theory
• (Giles et al, 1979, 1991)
• Convergent: “factors related to feeling of
solidarity” wherein a speaker is reinforced
to use increase prestige/standard variants
• Divergent: using marked features to
“emphasize a distinctive social identity” (p
Attitudes & Education
• Attitude no longer studied as single
determinative factor in learning.
• Linked to other factors: perceived
competence, personal & academic selfesteem, beliefs about community of target
Student & Parent Attitudes
• Attitudes are shaped by personal experiences
and their specific learning context
ESL students will not all have the same attitude
towards learning a new language; however,
parents typically want their child to be bilingual
Students using a non-standard English dialect
comprehend SAE after 4-5 years of formal
Problems arise when SAE speaking teachers
cannot understand students using non-standard
Student & Parent Attitudes
• Controversy is typical when the community
language is different than the school language
When marginalization or oppression is a
historical aspect of the community being bidialectic is seen as positive/necessary
Distinction between learning community dialect
at home and school/standard dialect is also
Some aspects of community dialect integrated in
school language is helpful
Prohibition of community language is unjustified
Language Attitude Studies
• Acquiring a second language does not
improve social attitudes towards that
• Emotional factors are involved in
students’ intrinsic motivation
• Students may become discouraged due to
the length of the acquisition process
Choices of Norms & Standards
• Descriptive Norms- what speakers use
most often
• Prescriptive Norms- rules applied to
language use in all settings
• Language Standardization- process over
time involves selecting a norm, elaboration
for different uses, restriction of diversity, &
codification in grammar or dictionaries
Standards In Schools
• Norms are established by the dominant
culture group
• Enforced in schools through standardized
language use
• Historically teachers promote ‘correct
language’ equivalent to standardized
• Currently history, geography, & political
and commercial relationships are
influencing accepted norms
Language Policies
• Language policies & instruction shape
attitudes towards language
• Language policies shape political attitudes
due to power struggles between dominant
and minority groups
Educational Implications
• Find ways to motivate speakers at the individual,
classroom, and school wide level
Promote the relevance of language instruction
and the real world
Expand opportunities for diverse language forms
As conflict and disagreements over language
continues teachers need to provide creative and
effective changes
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