South Carolina Language and Life Project
Enhancing Understanding of Linguistic Diversity throughout South Carolina
Diversity and tolerance are focal areas for many social initiatives in the US today. While the work progresses through exposing prejudice and openly discussing bias, much room for improvement remains. Discrimination based on dialect is one of the most insidious forms of prejudice remaining in our society. Much of the menace of this linguistic bias derives from its subtlety. From the beginning of history, humans have judged others according to how they speak, sometimes knowingly, but often without intention. While unfair, there are strong consequences for using stigmatized language in mainstream America. People in our society are judged on their speech, not only in the workplace, but in schools as well.
Although our schools (both K-12 & beyond) should be centers for diversity and inclusivity, they all too often reinforce socio-cultural bias and dialect stigmatization. Well-intentioned teachers may unwittingly convey linguistic prejudice as they focus on correcting non-standard usage in the classroom. All too often students who speak in non-standard ways at school, both those in K-12 schools and in universities, hear from concerned teachers that their language is Okay at home, but not what we speak at school, that their speech is broken or worse, that they have no language. Students whose home communities use a dialect often feel like they must choose either friends and family or success in school.
This unintentional marginalization of students' home languages drives many bright, capable students away from academic pursuits. Rickford (2008) refers to the commonality of this experience as “the massive educational failure within the African American community” [original italics] and Labov (2008) reminds us all of several alarming social trends that accompany dropout rates among African American students. It must be noted that that while educational underachievement has sometimes been cast as a Black/White issue, students of any color may speak a stigmatized variety of English. Our students need to be prepared for the 'real' world, but they also need a safe haven where they can reach academic excellence and fluency in formal English, regardless of their home dialect.
Because change is predicated upon knowledge, I have founded the South Carolina Language and Life Project (SCLLP), a multi-disciplined endeavor focused on enhancing understanding of linguistic diversity in our state. Participants in the SCLLP are working together to create lesson plans for use in SC middle schools and to initiate community discussions around the topics of dialect, tolerance for linguistic diversity, and the role of Standard English in our society. I invite any and all interested members of the SC community (students, teachers, administrators, community leaders and concerned citizens) to learn about the SCLLP, its mission, and the principles it's based on. I am also very interested in hearing the stories of folks who are fluent in a non-standard variety of English and/or who have experienced linguistic discrimination.