Professor Trudgill`s presentation

Thirty eight years on …
1970s Mother-tongue education
Two major problems
Problem I
Mother-tongue education is
peculiarly susceptible to
ideological influence and
interference, because it is
seen as having a role in
transmitting political and
cultural values.
Problem II
When I went to school, I was
taught arithmetic because I
didn’t know any arithmetic; I
was taught history because I
didn’t know any history; I was
taught French because I
didn’t know any French …
Problem II
… but the reason I was taught
English wasn’t because I
didn’t know any English!
Problem II
Teaching English to English
speakers in England, or German
to German speakers in Germany,
or Hungarian to Hungarian
speakers in Hungary, is a rather
peculiar business.
What is it for?
1970s mother-tongue education
One clear goal:
the achievement of literacy.
1970s mother-tongue education
But this can be undermined by the other
more nebulous goal of value transmission.
And it can also be undermined by
ignorance about the nature of human
So …
The book was written for a series,
aimed at teachers and teacher
trainers, about language and
language use.
I was asked to present knowledge
shared by all linguistic scientists
about the nature of language
There was nothing in the book
that linguistics experts would find
even slightly controversial.
Look what happened …
Informed and intelligent
discussion in the British Press
“Bad grammar is incomplete and lazy.
It is wrong and therefore inferior.”
(Peter Black. The Guardian. December 6th, 1975)
Informed and intelligent discussion
in the British Press
“Some poor children already suffer from
progressive teachers who think it wrong to make
them read. They are now threatened with a rash
of Trudgills who won’t correct their grammar.
Yet nothing could penalise the working-class
more than to be denied the right to knowledge.”
(Sunday Telegraph. November 28th, 1975)
Informed and intelligent discussion
in the British Press
“Dr Peter Trudgill says that children should be
allowed to write as they like without regard to
the rules of spelling or grammar. Teachers who
stand by the rules are, he says, ‘unfairly
penalising the working class’. What an insult to
most of us! It presumes that there is a ‘working
class’ and that it is unable to understand how to
write properly.”
(Reading Evening Post. November 28th, 1975)
Informed and intelligent
discussion in the British Press
“It seems to me a matter of observable fact that
some young children growing up with, for
example, an East London dialect offshoot
pronouncing ‘station’ as ‘stition’ and ‘shouldn’t
have’ as ‘shoodenov’ are lacking entire sounds
and words in their vocal repertoire.”
(John Ezard. The Guardian (Education Section). August
12th, 1975)
Informed and intelligent discussion
in the British Press
“Dr Peter Trudgill says that Grammar is
unimportant. There is no reason, he says, to
ask that children should use standard English
in creative writing or in personal letters since
no advantages are likely to result from this. He
appeared looking sloppy and unattractive on
television. He implied – fairly inarticulately –
that if a child wanted to say ‘I don’t want none
of that’, it would be acceptable because,
crikey, we know what he means, don’t we.”
(Lynda Lee-Potter. Daily Mail. December 3rd, 1975)
Sloppy and unattractive
What did the book really say?
• Standard English is one dialect among
• All dialects have grammatical structure.
• Native speakers ‘don’t make mistakes’.
• There is nothing wrong or inadequate
about nonstandard dialects … etc.
All dialects have grammatical
Nonstandard English:
We done that last week.
“Failure” to distinguish between past tense
and past participle:
We have done it every week.
All dialects have grammatical
Compare Standard English:
We made that last week.
“Failure” to distinguish between past tense
and past participle:
We have made it every week.
All dialects have grammatical
Nonstandard English distinction between
full verb do and auxiliary do:
You done it, did you?
Standard English “failure” to distinguish
between full verb do and auxiliary do:
You did it, did you?
Knowledge about grammar
Knowledge about dialects
By 1978:
Accent, Dialect & the School
was on the curriculum for most
English Dip.Ed. etc. courses.
Now …
we have to fight this battle
all over again
Now …
Karen Grainger (2013):
‘The daily grunt’: middle-class bias and
vested interests in the ‘Getting in Early’
and ‘Why Can't They Read?’ reports.
Language and Education, 27:2, 99-109
Now …
“It is a long-standing and commonly
held belief in the United Kingdom that
the use of elite forms of language
reflects superior intellect and
education. Expert opinion from
sociolinguistics contends that such a
view is the result of middle-class bias
and cannot be scientifically justified.”
Karen Grainger (2013)
Now …
“In the 1960s and 1970s, such
luminaries as Labov and Trudgill
were at pains to point out to
educationalists that this ‘deficit’
view of working-class children’s
communicative competence is not
a helpful one.”
Karen Grainger (2013)
Now …
“However, a close reading of recent thinktank reports and policy papers on language
and literacy teaching in schools reveals
that the linguistic deficit hypothesis has
resurfaced and is likely to influence
present-day educational policy and
practice. In this paper, I examine in detail
the findings, claims and recommendations
of the reports.”
Karen Grainger (2013)
Now …
“They are biased, poorly researched and
reflect the vested interests of certain
specialist groups. We need to move away
from the pathologisation of working-class
children’s language patterns and, once
again, inject a sociolinguistic perspective
on language and educational failure into
the debate.”
Karen Grainger (2013)
Dear Mr Gove…..
Michael Rosen's letter from a curious parent
“There's no evidence the testing of
grammar will improve children's writing,
but plenty that daily reading for pleasure
does, so why don't you make that the
statutory requirement?”
Dear Mr Gove …
Punctuation – vitally important!
Spelling – much less important!
Grammar – does Mr Gove understand
what this means?
Dear Mr Gove …
Grammar – knowledge about the grammatical
structure of English, and other languages:
noun, verb, conjunction …
Can Mr Gove explain the rule which determines
when to say
I walked down the street
I was walking down the street
Dear Mr Gove …
“Grammar” – usage of Standard English
grammatical forms:
I did it
I done it
Confusion …
… about what you are testing when you are
“testing grammar” does not help anybody
or anything.
So …
Good luck!

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