Friday, July 19, 2013

Sociolinguistic Journals; Part 1

Fun House Mirrors

In Norway (and New York), interviews were held with women on the topic of standard and vernacular speech (Holmes, ch7). When women were asked explicitly about the level of (or amount of) standard speech they used, they reported a higher level than what they were actually using in the interview. Men in Norway did the same thing, but in the reverse. They claimed more vernacular use than they actually used. Is this because they (and we) view ourselves in a skewed perspective? How we view ourselves, or how we wish others would view us, can change our choices of speech even when we are not conscious of it. Interviews held in Australia revealed that boys would increase their vernacular when being recorded, showing a desire for distinction between themselves and the interviewer.

Descriptive vs Prescriptive Grammar

In grammar school, students are taught the rules for their first language. The students are already using this language deftly, so the training at that point is perhaps to instruct students in the terminology and equip them to discuss it academically. It also gives them the tools to put sentences together "correctly". There is a problem, though, when a student is taught a grammar rule that is broken in his home regularly. This is where we face the difference between prescriptive grammar and descriptive grammar. For example, we say that in English, sentences must have a noun and a verb, must not end in a pronoun, and a noun must be a person, place, or thing. This is prescriptive grammar. It does not accurately reflect how we actually use English. If we wrote a descriptive grammar, we would acknowledge that subjects and verbs can be dropped if there is mutual understanding, sentences end in prepositions all the time, and we can make up words, or noun-ify other parts of speech if we want! Examples: "Where is that book?" "Under the chair." (Lacking a noun AND a verb) "Hers is the only party we went to." (Preposition ending) and "Skating is what I want for Christmas" (noun-ify a verb). When we use descriptive grammar, it validates, not contradicts, what the children of learning. Now then, do we each children rules straight up textbook style, or teach them how to identify what we do when we use English? We want to validate their language, as they did in that school from Southern California(a reference to a video shown in class). But they also need to know how to write academically. I would recommend, then, teaching children the difference between informal and formal register. When speaking, this is the register we use. When writing a journal, we use a similar register. When writing a research paper, however, we must use a formal register. Grammar rules are different between each, and so they would have to be learned. I think children are capable of learning the difference. I would be hard-pressed, however, to tell a native speaker that they are not speaking their own language correctly.

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