Lanehart – The Language of Identity

Lanehart, Sonja L. “The Language of Identity.” Journal of English Linguistics (1996): 322-31. Print.

In this article Sonja Lanehart argued that language is not just a means of communication, but a choice of expression that can reflect “solidarity, resistance, and identity within a culture” (322). In essence, our linguistic choices reflect our goals, possible selves, and identity. In terms of rhetorical theory, Lanehart’s most compelling claim was that speakers align their language with those that they wish to be identified with, even if that language community is not present; therefore, those that a speaker seeks to identify with may be distinct from the speaker’s audience Continue reading

Gold – Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges

Gold, David. Rhetoric at the Margins :Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008. Print.

In Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947, David Gold re-historicized the history of writing in American colleges during the late 19th century and early 20th century by including accounts from three colleges and universities outside of the typical liberal arts institutions that are commonly included in such histories. Gold argued that including these other formal sites of writing instruction would provide a fuller and more nuanced history of composition and rhetorical education in the U.S. during that time period:

“I argue that each of the schools in this study championed intellectual and pedagogical traditions that diverged from the Eastern liberal arts model that often serves as the standard bearer for the development of English studies and rhetorical education. Furthermore, by emphasizing community uplift and civic responsibility and by validating local institutional and demographic realities, these schools created contexts in which otherwise moribund curricular features of the era—such as strict classroom discipline and an emphasis on prescription—took on new possibilities. Indeed, I suggest that the epistemological schema that have long been applied to pedagogical practices may actually limit understanding of those practices.” (xi)

Gold stated the three goals of the text were: “( 1) to recover important histories that would otherwise be lost and give voice to the experiences of students and educators of a diverse past; ( 2) to complicate and challenge the master narratives of rhetoric and composition history and the ideological assumptions that underlie them; and ( 3 ) to demonstrate persistent connections between the past and the present in order to help develop richer pedagogies for diverse bodies of students” (x).

To reconstruct the histories of writing instruction at Wiley College, Texas Woman’s University, and East Texas Gold analyzed archival  resources including: catalogues, course descriptions, student and faculty class notes and essays, contemporary newspaper and governmental reports, letters and diaries, interviews and oral histories. Gold argued that “What we have dismissed as current-traditional rhetoric often represents a complex of interwoven practices, both conservative and radical, liberatory and disciplining, and subject to wide-ranging local and institutional variations” (5).

One of the most compelling examples of how generalizing histories and theories of  writing pedagogy based on a monolithic notion of liberal arts education drawn from a limited selection of “mainstream” liberal arts colleges and universities can be found in Gold’s analysis of black liberal arts and rhetorical education at Wiley College, a historically Black college (HBCU). Exploring these histories that have been marginalized are important to the future of writing instruction, according to Gold, because writing instructors and program administrators use these histories to policy and curriculum decisions.

Gold argued that James Berlin’s (1987) taxonomies have been treated as mutually exclusive and discrete: “One is either epistemic or current-traditional in pedagogical practice and never twain shall they meet” (17). Tolson’s rhetorical practices, however, did not fit into any simple category: “…rather he combined elements of classical, current-traditional, liberal, social-epistemic, and African American as he saw fit” (17).

This example along with others from the other two institutions examined in the book, reinforce Gold’s primary argument that our interpretations of composition and rhetorical theory, like the theories themselves, are socially constructed, in constant flux, and must be understood in context.

Once again, an example of the importance of this type of contextual understanding can be seen in professor Melvin Tolson’s pedagogy at Wiley College as it related to race, power, and language instruction. Gold highlighted how Tolson would not have seen his prescriptive teaching of Standard American English as being in conflict with his opposition to white supremacy:

“For Tolson, language instruction gave his students the tools to actively resist the pressures of racism, conservatism, and capitalism. The question of whether the master’s tools could be used to tear down or rebuild the master’s house never came up, as it never would have occurred to him that the tools belonged to the master in the first place” (153).

He concluded:

“Our inheritance as rhetoric, writing, and language instructors in the American academy is a rich one, and the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are a vital part of that inheritance. Then, as now, writing instructors worked to expand educational opportunities for new constituencies of students, fought against what they saw as the reductive rhetoric of previous generations, and sought to promote citizen-ship through rhetorical instruction. This is a past that not only deserves to be remembered but might also bear some repeating.” (156)

Bridwell-Bowles – Discourse and Diversity: Experimental Writing within the Academy

Bridwell-Bowles, Lillian. “Discourse and Diversity: Experimental Writing within the Academy.” Feminism and Composition :A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa Kirsch, et al. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 294-313. Print.

In this essay, Lillian Bridwell-Bowles utilized theories from Feminist Studies, critical pedagogy, and Composition and Rhetorical Studies as well as her teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels to “imagine” and explicate the possibilities for the use of what she called a “diverse discourse” within the academy. She acknowledged the limitations of academic discourse and academic essays as a genre to connect with and express the full diversity of student bodies as well as meet their rhetorical needs. Despite the advances in composition theory through theories of cognitive process, social construction and advances in technology, Bridwell-Bowles argued that as long as our language remained inadequate (limited to academic discourse) our vision, thinking, and feeling will not be transformative (Rich 1979). Bridwell-Bowles alternative to exclusive academic discourse is “diverse discourse,” a discourse inspired by feminist discourse that allows for more languages and forms outside of academic discourse. She stated her conscious and political choice to not call it “alternative discourse” because it “does not allow us to reform thinking, to imagine the possibility that writing choices that are now marginal could someday be positioned alongside, or in place of , the dominant ones” (295). Bridell-Bowles does not argue for throwing out the pedagogical “baby (traditional academic writing components) with the bath water,” but asserts that in light of new theory these conventions should not be the only ones that count. While Bridwell-Bowles does not explicitly weigh in on the validity of bidialectalism for the speakers of language varieties outside of “standard” English, she does question its efficacy: “We may agree on its necessity, but not on its sufficiency. I also believe that linguistic and rhetorical flexibility may help students to write better conventional prose” (296).

Through her own experience and student examples Bridwell-Bowles admits she cannot provide concrete answers, but attempts to hypothesize the existence of a powerfully diverse discourse that allows for variation in race, gender, class, sexual orientation and other human variation. This work is challenging in complicated to do using a “patriarchal, racist, and classist variant of language,” because “it may not be possible to create feminist discourse with a “father’s tongue’ (Penelope) or the ‘master’s tools’ (Lorde, Master’s)” (298). She provides student examples of writing without argument and experimentation with form to illustrate ways that students have put themselves “back into their writing.” As she works to dot he same in her own writing she is candid about the privilege she has to do so as a tenured faculty member, but asserts that she intends to use this power to open more doors for others to do the same.

“The real change does not lie on the surface of language at all, where I have chosen to begin, but in the deep structure where language and culture interact. In these places, I treasure the new meanings that I and many others have discovered” (312).


Mitchell-Kernan – Signifying, Loud-Talking and Marking

Mitchell-Kernan, C. “Signifying, Loud-Talking and Marking (1972).” Signifyin (g), sanctifyin’, and slam dunking (1999): 309. Print.

In this text, Claudia Mitchell-Kernan highlights three features and practices of Black English and discourse: signifying, loud-talking, and marking. As a linguist and speaker of Black English, Mitchell Kernan was able to offer a more thorough and accurate account of Black English practices, and do so in a way that focused on the unique characteristics and strengths of the language. Most importantly, Mitchell-Kernan examined Black English as a language system in its own right, and not in constant comparison or in the shadow of the “standard” English.

Through analysis of her interactions with speakers of Black English, she derived her own explanations of Black language usage that were oftentimes similar to result that William Labov found in his research, but Mitchell-Kernan’s explication had a more nuanced and richer quality. This is evident in her description of the use of the word “nigger” in Black discourse based on  primary research she provided in the text:

“The use of the “nigger” in these examples is of interest. It is coupled with the use of code features which are farthest removed from standard English. That is, the code utilizes many linguistic markers that differentiate black speech from standard English or white speech. More such markers than might ordinarily appear in the language of the speaker are frequently used. Interestingly, the use of “nigger” with black English markers has the effect of “smiling when you say that.” The use of standard English with “nigger” in the words of an informant, is “the wrong tone of voice” and may be taken as abusive.” (322)

Mitchell-Kernan’s main focus seems to be giving a thorough treatment of Black English for the sake of understanding Black English, not for the purpose of using it to manipulating Black students into speaking in a socially sanctioned “standard” English like linguists, such as: Labov, Fasold, and Wolfram. This type of scholar, one with linguistic training and intimate knowledge and experience with Black English, is who Labov (1971) said was needed, but did not exist.

Troike – Receptive Bidialectalism: Implications for Second-Dialect Teaching

Troike, RC. “Receptive Bidialectalism: Implications for Second-Dialect Teaching.” Language and Cultural Diversity in American Education. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc (1972) Print.

In this article, Rudolph Troike discussed the pedagogical implications for optional receptive bidialectalism. Troike broke down the language acquisition process and acknowledged that speakers of one variation of a language oftentimes understand other variations even when they themselves cannot speak or write using that foreign variation. Troike argued that ignoring this aspect of linguistic competence can lead to faulty assessment and teaching strategies (92).

Troike suggested that students in the first grade and even earlier have more sophisticated understandings of different dialects and how they function socially. Troike encouraged teachers to consider that students first understand and process language before they have the ability to reproduce it. Troike also advised teachers not to mistake students’ lack of use of “standard” variations of a language as lack of knowledge. This approach to understanding speakers of nonstandard language varieties is both nuanced and respectful.

With this in mind, Troike suggested that teachers not wait until the teenage years to introduce second dialects. In teaching dialects, Troike described teachers roles more as facilitators: “…and the task of the teacher should be seen as one of building on this knowledge to enable the students to make use of it in their own production” (95).

Contrary to viewing nonstandard dialect speakers from a deficit model, Troike insisted that students’ strengths be central:

“A satisfactory program should recognize and build upon students’ existing linguistic strengths, and where their receptive knowledge already encompasses standard forms, students should be given adequate practice in bringing these to the productive level.” (96)

Troike also maintained that this learning process need not be a one-way process:

Since a teacher can achieve greater rapport (not to speak of communication) with her students is she can understand them, it might well be desirable to devise materials to help teachers acquire an adequate receptive, if not productive, competence in the dialect of their students. Such an experience might, if nothing else, impart a greater respect for the students’ achievements, and an appreciation of the difficulties involved in learning to speak a second dialect.” (97)

Labov – The Study of Nonstandard English

Labov, William. “The Study of Nonstandard English.” Language: Introductory Readings. Eds. Virginia

In this article, William Labov argued for the need for linguists and educators to understand non-standard English variations, particularly “Negro” dialect. Like most other scholars who advocated for bi-dialectalism, Labov explained that teaching non-standard English speakers “standard” English would help them to be more upward mobile in society. According to Labov, understanding non-standard English varieties make for more efficient teaching of “standard” English.

Labov argued against considering Negro dialect as a self-contained language system apart from “standard” English. He maintained that through a careful examination of the grammatical processes and rules of both non-standard dialect and “standard” English, one would find they were closely related. According to Labov, the different dialects showed different versions of grammatical rules. For this reason, he advocated for understanding non-standard dialects within the context of “standard” English:

Any analysis of the nonstandard dialect which pretends to ignore other dialects and the general rules of English will fail (1) because the nonstandard dialect is not an isolated system but a part of the sociolinguistic structure of English, and (2) because of the writer’s knowledge of standard English.” (446)


Stewart – Sociolinguistic Factors in the History of American Negro Dialects

Stewart, W. A. “Sociolinguistic Factors in the History of American Negro Dialects.” Florida FL Rep (1967) Print.

In this text, William Stewart gave context for the pedagogical tensions related to “Negro” dialect in the English classroom. He framed the concerns and research efforts regarding Black language variations as base din a national commitment to improving the lives and potential for social and economic advancement of underprivileged and  “disadvantaged” groups. To this end, Stewart claimed that a host of professionals were seeking answers to the numerous language problems of the “Negro.” Stewart described an educational landscape where underprivileged children were seen an defective and less capable than their white counterparts. Stewart argued that   schools needed to be both capable and willing to deal with such “dialect-based problems” (417).
Stewart stressed the importance of giving the nonstandard English speaking students the benefit of an education in  “standard” English: “To insure their social mobility on modern American society, these nonstandard speakers must undoubtedly be given a command of standard English” (425).
In order to properly deal with these dialect-based “problems” Stewart advised applied linguists and teachers alike to recognize the validity and long standing history of Black variations of English:
“Once educators are concerned with the language problems of the disadvantaged come to realize that non-standard Negro dialects represent historical tradition of this type, it is to be hoped that they will become less embarrassed by evidence that these dialects are very much alike throughout the country while different in many ways from non-standard dialect of whites, less frustrated by failure to turn non-standard Negro dialect speakers into standard English speakers overnight, less impatient with the stubborn survival of Negro dialect features in speech of even educated persons, and less zealous in proclaiming what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong'” (426).
Once this is achieved and linguists and educators can communicate with eac other, Stewart claimed “the problem will then be well on its way toward a solution” (426). The assumption under-girding this entire text despite all of the “legitimacy” Stewart tried to bestow upon Black English, was that the language and the people that speak in are different and unequal in terms of value and social capital; they were a problem, a threat and needed to be mitigated.