Lin – An English Program for students Handicapped by a Local Dialect

Lin, San‐su C. “An English Program for Students Handicapped by a Local Dialect,”.” College Language Association Journal (1963) Print.

In this article, San-su Lin, described her experience as a professor at Claflin University, a historically Black university, teaching college English to students with “local dialects.”  From the beginning, Lin described the Black students’ dialect  as a “handicap” and impediment to them having group membership in the larger society and achieving upward social mobility. Even though Lin is clear that the lowered status of Black dialects are socially constructed in the United States because of the lowered social status of Blacks in the U.S., she nonetheless advocated for Blacks to adopt the language of wider communication in order to be successful, similarly to the way Green (1963) does. The difference between Lin and Green’s (1963) stance on local dialects is that while Lin described that the dialect is a social barrier, she recognized that the dialect itself is not deficient, but another form of usage:

“In a democratic society like ours… linguistic scientists who have done distinguished work in linguistic history and geography should have convinced us that the only sensible viewpoint we could adopt is a liberal viewpoint, allowing for a variability and flexibility in the matter of English usage. According to this viewpoint, the many so-called incorrect usages condemned by the purists are colloquially acceptable, and the usages that are definitely substandard are actually fewer than we once thought” (145).

Despite this acknowledgement, societal and institutional goals prevail. Lin described a program instituted by Claflin University with support from Teachers’ College faculty and the U.S. Department of Education called the “Pattern Practice in the Teaching of Standard English to Students with a Nonstandard Dialect” (142).  The program started in 1961 and sought to identify the extent to which pattern practice could help “nonstandard” English speakers learn “standard” English as well as develop materials to implement pattern practice with students.

The program included mandatory classes and language labs, but Lin found that American speakers of local dialect had a more difficult time picking up “standard” English because they did not have the same motivations to assimilate as foreign students. To this end, Lin said one of the programs most important goals was to show the students in the Claflin program the extend to their “language problem” which was mainly social (144). Secondly, the program  sought to teach the students the best ways to overcome their “handicap” (146). In addition to in class lessons, students were provided mastertape recordings for more practice.

At the time that the article was written, Claflin was in their third academic year of the program and the final assessment had note been conducted. However, Lin suspected that the success of the program would be seen on a more personal level for the students with increases in confidence and  improvements in attitudes toward English language use. Lin concluded that although she presumed this program to be successful, that “special” English classes for “minority” students with local dialects should not mean remedial English classes. Instead, Lin argued that English programs and teacher training should be re-evaluated and answers to the following questions should be pursued:

“How can we adequately prepare our English majors to teach English as a language as well as literature? How can we alert prospective English teachers not only to the dynamic nature of language but also to the psychological needs of the students? How can we encourage our English majors, even if they do not intend to teach, to cultivate a humanistic interest in our language as an integral part of the humanities, and not merely as a set of mechanical rules and abstract definitions? How can we infuse in our students a sense of urgency in learning, or teaching English which has a great impact not only on a child’s sense of security but on national security as well?” (147)

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Ives – Grammatical Assumptions

Ives, S. “Grammatical Assumptions.” College Composition and Communication 5.4 (1954): 149-55. Print. 

In this article, Sumner Ives attempted to clear up the assumptions concerning grammar in English education. Ives began by making the distinction between the what he outlined as two major types of meaning in language 1) grammatical meaning and 2) lexical meaning. Grammatical meaning, according to Ives, refers to structural meanings expressed through words like “the” and “did,” and by tone, pause, pitch, and stress. This, Ives said, falls into the realm of the linguist. As the study and description of devices that convey structural meaning, Ives argued that there are different grammar rules for different languages (152).

Ives also worked to clarify the distinctions between grammar and rhetoric. While he stated grammar  is based on “public observance of certain conventions,” rhetoric on the other hand, is based on “private activity within the limits set by these conventions” (152). Ives asserted that the two influence each other reciprocally and are both necessary for English pedagogy for native English speakers.

One area that is of particular interest to me is Ives explication of this then new understanding of linguistic grammar as opposed to “traditional” grammar. He referred to traditional grammar as being the “retention of earlier methods of authority and reason” and as “rationalistic” (152). Linguistics, however, he described as “the application of modern methods of science and logic” (152). Traditional grammar, Ives pointed out, erroneously relied on one standard of grammar based in Latin. This type of assumption impeded “our” progress in understanding language (153). This seemed very promising in terms of a pedagogy that allowed for multiple understandings of language and communication, especially when Ives explained his view of usage.

Usage refers to the fact that not all people use the same structural or grammatical forms in making equivalent statements. Ives acknowledged that there can be differences of dialects within the same language and asserted it was pointless to discount different usages within English as not being English (154). However, he recognized that different dialects were associated with different social status, such as education level. Ives challenged the oversimplification of usage by education or class level in light of the notion of “universe of discourses” where (154). For example, speech and writing are different universes of discourse. Different usage can be considered correct, accepted, appropriate and characteristic only in terms of the universe of discourse (154).

Ives concluded that in terms of pedagogy “the student should be taught the usages proper to universes of discourse which he is not likely to learn about outside the school” (154). This sounds similar to helping students respond to particular rhetorical situations. Another rhetorical factor Ives alluded to is ethos: “If a new doctor or minister says “you was,” [instead of “you were”] confidence in him is lowered. Educated people should talk like educated people, no matter who is listening or what the occasion may be” (154). Inherent in these statements is a particular understanding of what it means to be educated, as well as a particular understanding of what “proper” grammar is, which by Ives’ own definition of grammar and usage is problematic. For example, if my response to this logic was “who the fuck says?” in stead of “we need to interrogate who gets to determine these rules?” would that be an indication that I was less intelligent? Or, is this just another example of the biases that our society has against dialects that do not come from white people of privileged social status, and the people that use them?

In the end, Ives advocated for a link between linguistics and literature stating that grammar is the foundation for rhetoric. Although he speaks about mastering “native language” it is clear that here he is referring to a standard form of English. Even so, his theories could also be applied to language policies, such as Students’ Rights to Their Own Language.

“Reading enables people to extend their experience, to see the world through other eyes and know it in terms of other concepts and attitudes, for these are implicit in language. In fact, one can argue convincingly that a man has not fully mastered his native language until he has read widely in it, particularly those writings which we call imaginative or creative. It follows, too, that increase in experience, in breadth and depth of experience, results in knowledge of more words and greater facility in the use of language. I regret, as you see, the tendency to regard linguistics and literature as separate fields with little to say to each other and in the position of rivals as teachers of composition” (154).