Conflicting Ideologies: Language Diversity in the Composition Classroom

Sonja Launspach

In many ways, language discrimination remains hidden in plain sight. For instance, it is acceptable, in educational settings, to judge students, by the way they talk, read aloud, or write. These judgments often involve a deficit approach; the student is judged to lack some essential attribute because they don’t utilize the literacy practices of the White middle class; practices adopted as education’s literacy practices. These literacy practices are dominated by a standard language ideology (SLI) which promotes standardized language varieties like academic written English (AWE) as the neutral language choice for higher education. This dominance of standardized language varieties in education has remained largely unchallenged by educators, higher education administration, employers, government officials, and even the general public. As a result, other language varieties have been and continue to be devalued and excluded, with negative consequences for student academic success.

Recognizing the effects of language discrimination on student success, the Conference on College Composition and Communication and later the National Council of Teachers of English adopted resolutions calling for Students’ Rights to their Own Language (SRTOL), bringing into the school setting ideologies about language variation and language diversity that conflict with the SLI. Because of its focus on language use in different rhetorical settings and the acquisition of academic literacy skills, the composition classroom is a productive site to explore these conflicting ideologies. Further, since many composition scholars and instructors support the STROL resolutions, they would, therefore, need to find ways to balance the ideological assumptions behind AWE and their students’ rights to use their own language varieties. The question, then becomes, how do composition instructors committed to social justice, SRTOL, and their students’ academic success make sense of these seemingly opposite stances about which language varieties belong in the academy.

In this chapter, I will explore how composition instructors negotiate the conflicting tensions between the largely unquestioned dominance of standardized varieties like AWE and students’ rights to their own language varieties. In order to better understand what composition instructors know about language variation, how they apply that knowledge in their classrooms, and how these different ideologies affect teacher practices, I conducted a survey of composition instructors who teach at several different universities in the US. I will show that despite instructors having more linguistics training and a greater awareness of language diversity, students’ language varieties are largely relegated to a limited or preliminary role in the writing process. As my results will demonstrate this is due to the unequal power between conflicting ideological and institutional factors as well as the different linguistic, attitudinal, and institutional support that composition instructors are able to bring to an already packed composition curriculum.

Language Ideology

Ideology is commonly defined as a set of beliefs, values, or guiding principles that guide individuals, groups, and institutions and which form the basis of actions and policies. Since ideologies are not neutral, those actions and policies can affect individuals and groups in negative ways, often resulting in systemic types of discrimination. When ideologies become normalized or naturalized, this naturalization process hides the power interests of a dominant group over others by making the ideological framework(s) invisible, which, in turn, makes them difficult to question or challenge. However, though it is difficult, dominant ideologies can be challenged by counter hegemonic beliefs held by less powerful groups (Gramsci, 1971; Spivak 1988) Making ideologies “visible,” naming them, is an important step in challenging the beliefs they promote.

Like other types of ideologies, ideologies about language pervade all aspects of our lives as individuals, just as they underpin the values, beliefs, and practices of institutions, and like other ideologies, language ideologies can be complex, multifaceted, and multi-layered. Many scholars have attempted to capture the diverse assumptions found in language ideologies focusing on different characteristics of beliefs about language (Lippi-Green, 2012; Silverstein, 1979; Wolfram, 1998; Woolard & Schieffelin, 1994). Silverstein’s (1979) commonly cited definition, “sets of beliefs about language articulated by users as a rationalization or justification of perceived language structure and use” (p. 193), focuses on how language ideologies are used to justify attitudes toward language use and speakers of different language varieties.

In the institutional context of education, the most salient types of ideologies are those that uphold or challenge the dominance of standardized varieties. Three intersecting ideologies that support the dominance of standardized varieties in the US are the monolingual English language ideology, the Standard Language Ideology (SLI), and the relationship between language and social mobility (Wiley

& Lukes, 1996). Challenging these dominant ideologies are ones which promote language diversity: all language varieties are equal linguistically and function fully as communication systems with their own grammar, lexicon, and social conventions; language and identity are connected; and language discrimination is linked to social and racial discrimination. These contrasting sets of ideologies all play a role in how language diversity is viewed in the US public schools and US higher education.

Ideologies about language diversity must contend with standard language ideologies. Standardized varieties are not chosen because of any inherent linguistic qualities; rather, it is their association with speakers of high prestige and social and economic power that elevates them. Through this process of association, higher value and prestige are placed on the standardized language variety, which, in turn, provides its speakers with greater social capital than other speakers, enforcing racial and social class distinctions as well as discrimination through institutionalized language “nonns” (Milroy, 2001; Milroy & Milroy, 2012). Access to this linguistic social capital can provide speakers with educational advantages, employment, and other political and economic advantages (Wiley & Lukes, 1996, p. 515).

This advantage to speakers of certain groups is reflected explicitly and implicitly in different definitions ofSLI. For example, Lippi-Green defines SLI as:

a bias toward an abstracted idealized homogeneous spoken language which is imposed and maintained by dominant bloc institutions and which names as its model the written language, but which is drawn primarily from the spoken language of the upper middle class.

(Lippi-Green, 2012, p. 67)

Other definitions express the more common perception of the “standard” as superior and more correct than other varieties (Davila, 2016; Weaver, 2019). Further contributing to the power and invisibility of the SLI is the positioning of the standardized variety as linguistically neutral. According to Davila (2016) instructors in both their discussion and evaluation of students’ writing frame the standardized language variety as “normal, natural, non-interfering, and widely accessible” (p. 7). Given its status as linguistically neutral, the standardized language variety plays a role in language focused discrimination, making it difficult for other language ideologies such as the ones that value linguistic diversity to counter it.

Ideological Tension: The NCTE Resolution

In institutions such as higher education, we find evidence that language ideologies can exist in conflict and negotiation with each other. In fact, the 1974 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Students’ Right to their own Language (SRTOL) resolution itself exemplifies the tension between two conflicting sets of assumptions about language. In the 1970s, responding to socio-historical factors and new linguistic research (Dillard, 1972; Halliday, 1973; Labov, 1970; Labov, 1972; Shuy, 1964), the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) began the process of crafting a resolution on students’ right to their own language. The CCCC STROL resolution was adopted, first, by the Executive Committee in 1972 and then the full membership in 1974. Since the CCCC is part of the NCTE, scholars and educators who were members of both organizations began to promote the belief about students’ right to their own language within NCTE with the result that NCTE passed its own weaker SRTOL resolution in 1974 (Smitherman, 1995).

Looking at the NCTE SRTOL resolution through the lens of critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1989; Fairclough & Wodak, 1997) can reveal how the two competing systems of values—SLI and language diversity—are encoded in the text of the resolution. The resolution begins with a brief statement about the impetus for the resolution, then affirms students’ rights to their own language, states the responsibilities of teachers to students, states the need for teacher training in language diversity and then lays out the responsibilities of the organization to students and other professional organizations.

To illustrate the underlying assumptions of the SLI, I will examine the first and second sub-sections (found in Excerpts 1 and 2).

1. that NCTE affirm the responsibility of all teachers of English to assist all students in the development of their ability to speak and write better whatever their dialects;

The first sub-section (Excerpt 1) employs a number of strategies that perpetuate the SLI.

First, not naming the standardized language variety positions it as both normal and unmarked. Interesting also is the inclusion of “speak” in the phrase “speak and write better,” indexing the belief that an idealized spoken standardized variety exists, one that is valued as “better.” A value-laden term, “better,” as a comparative implies “better than”: better than, for example, their home language, or better than their previous abilities; the unnamed point of comparison appears to be taken for granted or understood. Next, the phrase “whatever their dialects” sets up a contrast between the unnamed, unmarked language of school and the student’s own dialect—in this way the student’s own language variety is othered, marked as different and put in opposition to the normative standard (Davila, 2016).

Excerpt 2 immediately follows Except 1 in the resolution:

2. that NCTE affirm the responsibility of all teachers to provide opportunities for clear and cogent expression of ideas in writing, and to provide the opportunity for students to leant the conventions of what has been called written edited American English;

Excerpt 2 uses different strategies to reinforce the SLI. First it draws on beliefs about the non-interfering quality of standardized language variety, expressed in the idea of clarity. The phrase, “for clear and cogent expression of ideas in writing,” demonstrates this assumption. Thus, the standardized language variety is believed not to interfere with meaning—it is a transparent medium that allows writers to communicate ideas in contrast with other varieties (Davila, 2016). Next, the second infinitive clause leaves unquestioned to need “to learn the conventions” of “written edited American English,” while at the same time appearing to distance itself from standardized language variety. The phrase “what has been called” implies that it is no longer called that without stating what, if anything, is it now called. Seemingly, the very act of naming the standardized language variety is somehow uncomfortable.

In the resolution, these unquestioned assumptions about the normative nature of standardized language are set in contrast with the promotion of language diversity and the value to the student of their own language variety. First, the background cites the NCTE’s concern with the negative labeling of nonstandard dialects and resulting negative labeling of students. The first thing resolved is the student’s right to the language variety that expresses their “family, community” and “personal identity.” The third sub-section strongly affirms “that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to understand and respect diversity of dialects.” In addition, there is a call to promote classroom practices which would help students to also understand and respect language diversity in American English (National Council of Teachers of English, 1974).

However, the NCTE, as a professional organization, lacks the authority to implement the resolution’s recommendations in teacher training programs. Moreover, systemic issues like the dominance of language attitudes that are prejudicial to students have continued to hinder changes in teacher attitudes toward students’ language varieties. Finally given the inherent contradictions in the resolution itself, it is not surprising that its actual effect on US educational practices has been limited in scope. However, since the need to recognize the social legitimacy of all language varieties still exists, the resolution remains a resource that educators can use to accomplish the goal of including and accepting all students and their language varieties.

Although the original resolution does not call for the inclusion of the student’s language varieties in the classroom, Kinloch (2005) argues that the classroom is the “space it was meant to occupy” (p. 108). One purpose of my survey is to explore the gap between praxis and belief. What do composition instructors know about language variation and how do they bring that knowledge into the “space of the classroom?”

Dialect and Composition Survey Methodology

I conducted my survey on-line using Qualities. The survey was distributed in two ways: a direct link through email and an anonymous link sent to colleagues. The survey consisted of a total of 22 questions, plus 7 demographic questions. Some of the questions were adapted from an earlier survey I did together with a graduate student.2 However, the focus of this study is different from the earlier one, and none of the data from the earlier survey appears as part of the analysis here.

There were 89 responses in total (including both partial and complete responses). This chapter includes only the responses from the 69 completed surveys (see Appendix A for complete list of survey questions). Many questions in the survey had text boxes for respondents to write in and explain their answers more fully. This qualitative data will form part of the analysis as well.

The respondents ranged from 25 to 64 years of age; 57% identified as female, 37% identified as male, and 6% preferred not to disclose. The teaching experience ranged from 1 year to 50 years. Over half of the respondents had a PhD, (58%), while 36% had a Master’s degree and 6% had a Bachelor’s degree. There were a number of different fields represented: 46% had a degree in English, 25% had a degree in Composition/Rhetoric, 15% had a degree in Linguistics, 6% had a degree in Creative Writing, and 8% had some other type of degree.

Figures 4.1 and 4.2 summarize respondents by rank and institution.

While surveys are a useful way to gather a lot of data quickly, self-report has its limitations, since there are different kinds of response biases. For example, respondents might report what they think sounds better rather than what they actually do or think. While the survey data can provide insights into composition instructors practices, the data results should always be interpreted with care.

Respondents by rank

FIGURE 4.1 Respondents by rank.


FIGURE 4.2 Respondents by type of institution.


In order to summarize the results, I have grouped some questions into topic groups which may be out of order from the actual survey. In the original survey as distributed to respondents, the order of questions went from what the respondents know about language variation, to questions about classroom practices and finally to graduate student training in language variation.

Instructor Knowledge of Language Variation

Question 2 (“I have the following linguistics training”) asked for information on which linguistic courses the respondents had taken. The question allowed for multiple responses since they might have taken more than one class. Ninety-three percent had some type of linguistics training and only 7% (17) said that they had had no linguistics training at all. The most common class was Introduction to Linguistics, (18%). I grouped the other responses by course category: 41% had taken Formal Linguistics courses, and 31% had taken Sociolinguistics/Second Language Acquisition (SLA) courses.

These results are similar to the NCTE’s language knowledge and awareness survey conducted in the late 1990s which found that 72% of their respondents had taken a linguistics course, while 28.4% had received no linguistics training. Like my respondents, the Introduction to Linguistics course was the most frequently taken course (49.8%) (National Council of Teachers of English, 2000, p. 11). Although the NCTE survey had a much larger sample size, the results seem to show an increase since 2000 in the number of instructors taking linguistics courses. However, one must be cautious in making this comparison since my data only includes a limited number of composition instructors in higher education while theirs included both secondary education and college instructors.

Since not all linguistic courses discuss language variation, I asked for a definition of dialect, (Question 3, “I define dialect as:”). The answers to this question varied quite a bit, especially in what the definition emphasized. The text responses were grouped according to the main focus of the definition.

Four definitions (6%) gave variations of Weinrich’s definition (a language is a dialect with an army and a navy). Twenty-four percent said that a dialect was a rule-governed variety or stated that it had “its own syntax, vocabulary and linguistic features.” Forty-four percent defined dialect as a variety or language associated with a group, the common ones listed were region, social group, class, or culture. Several definitions also seemed to equate dialect with language rather than describing a dialect as a variety of a language and some specifically included writing as well as speaking.

Only two definitions set a dialect in contrast to the “standard” in a way that might be interpreted as a value judgment. These were “A non-standard way of speaking or writing associated with a region or an ethnic group” and “A slightly different language than the accepted language.” Both of these definitions use terms to set dialects in opposition to the standardized language variety, which could then reinforce the SLI.

Overall, these definitions seem to demonstrate a relatively positive perspective and a reasonable understanding of what a dialect/language variety is. The strong focus on dialect as being associated with a group—related to region, social characteristics, or culture is interesting since it emphasizes the socio-cultural aspects of language use and excludes the structural/syntactic aspects of language variation. By implication then, dialects, for many, are something associated with a home, region, or culture, not with institutions and are often seen as something different from a standardized language variety.

Questions 4 (“I think I am aware that my students might use a dialect different from Academic English”) and 7 (“I have recognized the following types of dialect features used by my students”) dealt with recognition of dialect features in the classroom. All respondents said they were aware that their students might speak a dialect different from Academic English. Further, all respondents reported being able to identify different dialect features, (lexis, grammar, pronunciation), used by their students.

Since many instructors are able to recognize their students’ dialect features, the next question asked about student dialect use in relation to student success. Question 5 (“I feel a student’s dialect is a barrier to learning Written Academic

English. Please explain your answer”). Over half (55%) disagreed with this statement while 27% were neutral, and only 18% agreed or felt that a student’s dialect might be a barrier.

The percentages here seem to show a shift in attitudes for this group of respondents away from the deficit code models, which place the standardized language variety as the norm and other language varieties as deficient in comparison, leading to a belief that students who speak other language varieties are less able to learn—they are deficit somehow. Unfortunately, despite research to the contrary, this attitude still persists in education (Delpit, 1990; Delpit & Dowdy, 2002; Heath, 1983; Wheeler & Thomas, 2013).

The individual written responses to Question 5 were articulate, thoughtful, and reflected more positive attitudes than the spread in the percentages indicated. I have grouped them according themes to make it easier to give an overview of the responses. The most frequent theme stated that the student’s language varieties were an asset that gave them an advantage in either learning or rhetorically using AWE (36%). The next most frequent theme (20%) was variations on the idea that everyone must leant AWE as it’s no one’s native variety. A small number of respondents (4%) overtly mentioned the power relations that govern how dialects are valued. Some (13%) stated that while it might be a challenge, given a variety of factors, it was not a barrier. For many (12%), the only time a dialect would be a barrier is if the teacher/education system made it one. Several (9%) did however, imply or state that it was students’ responsibility to acquire AWE. However, only 4% of the written responses explicitly stated that a student’s dialect was a barrier to learning AWE.

Questions about NCTE Resolution

As previously discussed, the NCTE SRTOL resolution attempted to promote an understanding and respect for “diversity of dialects.” However, this was passed 45 years ago. Is it relevant to instructors today? There were three questions related to the resolution: Question 10 (“Do you agree with NCTE resolution?”), Question 11 (“In what contexts should the use of a student’s home language be encouraged?”) and Question 13 (“I balance a student’s right to their own language (NCTE 1974) with the rules of Academic Written English”). The answers to the first two questions were fairly straightforward. Ninety-two percent agreed with the resolution, while only 7% said they did not. Most respondents said a student’s home language should be encouraged in both “written” (55%) and “spoken” (45%) contexts. Respondents could pick both.

Question 13 (“I balance a student’s right to their own language (NCTE 1974) with the rules of Standard English. Please explain your answer”) asked how they applied the resolution. Forty-three percent responded “a great deal,” or “a lot,” 32% chose “a moderate amount,” and 25% said “a little” or “not at all.” So at least 75% attempted to find some kind of balance between AWE and their students’ language varieties. In order to better organize the written responses here, I again created categories based on the responses.

The most frequent answer (27%) involved discussing/teaching genre and rhetorical awareness and audience. This approach was closely linked (and sometimes overlapped with) with the responses (14%) that discussed giving students information about different varieties and rhetorical situations and then allowing them to make the choice of which variety to use. Another approach involved the use of the students’ language varieties in certain contexts and assignments and the use of AWE in other contexts and assignments (21%). Equal in number were the responses (11%) that overtly discussed the tensions inherent in promoting the use of both the students’ language varieties and AWE with those that advocated for the use of AWE only in the academic setting (11%). Seven percent either overtly recognized or advocated the discussion of the power relations between the different language varieties in the academic setting. The rest of the responses did not seem to fit any particular category (9%).

Building student awareness of linguistic systems is important especially if it is accompanied by a discussion of the relative power relations between language varieties. However, while building awareness to give students choice and agency in their writing appears to be a good approach, how realistic is it? Do students actually have a choice? Given the beliefs about AWE as superior, correct, and non-interfering, would any choice but AWE be viewed negatively outside a narrow range of courses or instructors? Similarly, a reliance on genre and rhetorical awareness in making language choices while also important, doesn’t address the issue of which dialect dominates genres in academia.

Language Varieties in the Classroom

The next section looked at how dialects were used in the classroom. Questions 8 and 9 were “I have discussed these features with my students” and “Please explain,” respectively. In answer to the first part of the question, 31% said they discussed dialect features with their students a great deal or a lot, 34% said they discussed them a moderate amount while 35% said they discussed them a little or not at all. The percentages are pretty evenly distributed among the categories.

In the more detailed written responses, 41% of the instructors said that they deliberately incorporate units, readings, and/or class discussions about language variation and AWE. Other instructors mentioned that they incorporated dialects as parts of discussions on genres, register, or the rhetorical situation. Next, many instructors (25.4%) equated dialect features with grammar and vocabulary; these responses indicated that larger issues of grammar and usage or grammar and vocabulary were more commonly discussed with whole class, while sentence level differences seem to be discussed with students individually. Since dialects contain discourse features, pragmatic usage, and literacy values in addition to grammar and vocabulary, this represents a fairly narrow approach, that could potentially be very normative, highlighting standardized academic grammar and vocabulary usages as the target for students. Other responses (11%) revealed strong assumptions about the superiority of AWE and SLI.

The next two sets of questions asked about how students’ varieties were included in the writing process. The first question asked about writing genres and the second set of questions asked about code-meshing. In Question 12 (“In what types of writing should the use of a student’s home language be encouraged?”) respondents were given three choices: the drafting stages of writing, (39%), other writing genres (37%), and academic writing-edited prose (24%) with the option to pick more than one answer. Even keeping in mind the fact that a respondent could have picked all three, 76% indicated that a student’s home language/variety should be used for types of writing other than academic prose. Respondents were also given the opportunity to elaborate on which aspects of drafting stages and specify what other genres.

Comments on the Drafting Stages of Writing

The majority of the responses indicated that students should be encouraged to use their language varieties during all parts of the writing process —brainstorming, idea generation, initial drafts, and rough drafts up to the final draft. The term ‘translation’ was used several times to describe the process the student might use to move from earlier drafts in their language varieties to AWE. Most seem to feel that using the language varieties in the idea generation, drafting/revising process would help the student reduce cognitive load while a minority of respondents felt use of students’ language varieties in the final draft was acceptable provided it was intentional.

Other Writing Genres

A variety of genres were given by the respondents in response to this question. For instance, 42% said some type of creative writing, fiction, or narrative, 22% listed some type of personal writing such as journals, informal writing and social media. Twenty seven percent said the students’ language varieties could/should be used in any genre but several added qualifications to their answer such as “depends on audience,” or “if that community is the target audience.” Lastly, 9% wrote any genre but academic prose or professional writing.

Overall, the majority of responses about the uses of dialects in writing were weighted toward the preliminary writing/drafting stages or personal, informal and/or creative writing, with a middle ground where the choice of the genre depended on the audience. However, an academic audience, for the most part, expects AWE, so, in the university context, that is not much of an actual choice. Furthermore, the informal nature of the domains to which student language varieties are relegated reinforce their place in a home/personal sphere rather than a professional academic sphere.

The questions about code meshing reveal a very similar pattern. Here, I asked three questions: Question 16 (“Are you familiar with code meshing?”), Question 17 (“Do you encourage your students to use code meshing in their writing?”), and Question 18 (“In what contexts do you encourage/allow your students to use code meshing?”). Most of the respondents (90%) were familiar with codemeshing, but 63% encouraged their students to use it in their writing. The writing genres the respondents were given to choose from were free writing (25%), journal writing (25%), preliminary drafts (22%), the final version of the paper (15%), and other (12%).

So as we can see from these responses, it seems that both students’ language varieties and their use of code meshing are encouraged/allowed but again only in certain types of writing contexts. These contexts and genres are for the most part not ones where AWE is customarily used. A minority of the respondents said code meshing (15%) and language varieties (24%) should be used in AWE contexts. Do these responses represent a step toward more acceptance of students’ language varieties in academic writing or do they represent a continuation of appropriateness-based stances, or an example of multiple ideologies in conflict?


As we can see, many of the written responses illustrate the continued dominance of the ideological frameworks surrounding the relationship between social mobility, individual effort, and educational success (Wiley & Lukes, 1996). Entailed as part of this hegemonic belief system is the SLI which reinforces the relationship between standardized varieties favored by the education system and social and economic success. Thus, education upholds and reinforces the belief that speaking and writing a certain way is necessary to both academic and economic success. The underlying presence of this ideological frame can be seen as instructors (and students) grapple with the inherent contradictions of both acknowledging and valuing the language resources that students bring to the classroom, while at the same time, providing students with competencies in AWE that will hopefully allow them to successfully negotiate the academy and beyond.

Different instructors utilized varied strategies and approaches to move them and their students through this ideological tangle. Of course, the easiest approach is to accept without question the role of AWE as a gatekeeping mechanism in higher education and focus their efforts on teaching it to their students. Most instructors, whether or not they question, or are even aware of the hegemonic forces behind standardized language varieties, want their students to succeed. So, even if the instructors support the NOTE resolution, they often feel pressured to exclude or downplay students’ varieties, as these examples show:

  • 1. I think it’s a problem that the academy requires students to speak and write a certain way—but I do think that if students don’t conform they have a hard time accessing the academy.
  • 2. I think I’d be doing my students a disservice if I didn’t try to teach them some important conventions of Standard English because I know that there are very real penalties for breaking these conventions in both the academic and professional world.

These examples clearly show the ideological conflicts that instructors face when trying to balance students’ rights to their language varieties and dominant ideologies about language and education. Because these instructors are acutely aware of the social and economic penalties their students might face, they often uphold the SLI, despite their personal positive valuations for student language varieties, since the institution’s value is placed on AWE.

The most commonly discussed strategies were those that employed field specific concepts to equip students to navigate rhetorical situations and make informed language choices. The degree to which instructors were aware of, or attempted to use, these concepts to resist the dominant educational language ideologies varied. For example, some instructors feel it is important to make their students aware of the issues of power and language as this example shows.

3. I believe it is disadvantaging to students not to be aware of the social and political significance of using dialectal variations in formal academic writing. In the end, it is their choice whether or not to use ESWE, but making a conscious choice is different from not knowing the consequences with certain audiences. I discuss bell hook’s decision to use non-standard forms as an example.

Most responses, however, did not deal with issues of power explicitly; instead, they attempted to address the balancing act between students’ varieties and academic language through different types of appropriateness-based stances (ABS). ABS are a commonly used approach to language diversity in education. While many scholars and educators support this approach (Delpit, 2002; Elbow, 1999; Wheeler & Swords, 2006), others believe that, despite the stated intentions, the effects of ABS are less positive, serving, in fact, to segregate, other, or exclude non-standardized varieties (Lippi-Green, 2012; Young, 2007; Canagarajah, 2006; Weaver, 2019).

Evidence of ABS could be found in many of the survey responses. Here, however, the term “appropriate” was replaced with field specific terms such as genre, rhetorical situation, and audience. For instance, many written responses emphasized that student awareness of rhetorical situation and genre was important so they could navigate different rhetorical situations and select the appropriate language variety for that genre/context. However, choice of language variety in academic contexts is, for the most part, determined by the SLI. As we have also seen in the responses, not many academic genres were considered appropriate for students’ language varieties. While the inclusion of students’ language varieties into the academic writing process is a step in the right direction, restricting them to preliminary or informal writing contexts renders them invisible in the final graded essay, thus segregating the student’s language varieties from AWE, reinforcing, unintentionally, for some instructors, AWE’s nonnative position. Even though, ABS originally intended to value other language varieties in the educational setting, by “clearly demarcating” student language varieties as separate from a standardized variety like AWE (Fairclough, 1992), it preserves the lesser status of students’ vernacular varieties while the higher status of AWE remains unchallenged.

However, I don’t mean to suggest that teaching a knowledge of genres, rhetorical situations, and audience is doing students a disservice or that the situation is simplistic. There is nothing inherently wrong with fitting a text to a particular audience or genre. Style shifting and audience design are a normal part of social interactions and communicative practices for both spoken and written language (Bell, 1984; Bell, 2001; Goffman, 1981). Still, we, as educators need to both recognize and overtly teach our students that “which genre uses which dialect” is not neutral but ideological and value laden. While giving students an understanding of genre, rhetorical situation, and audience is necessary, it is not a linguistically or ideologically neutral act. On the contrary, the very idea of appropriateness involves evaluation where one variety is judged wrong for a particular genre or rhetorical context. The power relationships between language varieties and the dominance of the standardized variety and AWE were overtly acknowledged by some instructors in their written responses, but these were in the minority.

Despite more linguistic training and a greater positive value for students’ language varieties, most instructors struggle with the dominant ideological frameworks and institutional barriers that promote relationships between education, SLI, and economic success preventing instructors from fully integrating alternative ideologies about language diversity into the composition classroom. Further, many of the written responses indicate a lack of critical awareness or self-reflection about the ways their field’s concepts and practices, as well as their own instructional approaches, maintain hegemonic language beliefs.

Given these results, what are our responsibilities as linguists and educators? It is up to us, as linguists, educators, and scholars, to take up the labor and the responsibility of the communicative burden from the student. Placing the burden of language shift on the individual student exempts instructors and the education system as whole from examining or acknowledging the role SLI plays in subordinating other varieties. Thus, we have work to do at the level of professional organizations and associations, the level of the institution, the level of teacher training, and the level of professional development, by sharing resources that will help writing instructors create awareness of and to better integrate language varieties into their classrooms.

One approach that linguistics can offer both students and composition instructors is critical language awareness (CLA) (Fairclough, 1992; Sanchez & Paulson, 2008; de Kleine & Lawton, 2015). Using textual analysis, CLA fosters an awareness of how language is used to socially construct texts, how language may impose certain beliefs, values, and ideologies, and “how language may position students in negative ways, both purposefully and inadvertently” (Sanchez & Paulson, 2008, p. 166). With students, CLA could be used in the classroom to interrogate the complicated relationships between language, identity, power, and ideology. For instructors, CLA could be an important tool in professional development since it calls for exploring privileges, ideological stances, and for reflection on one’s own practices and attitudes regarding language and how they might inadvertently be discriminatory (Weaver, 2019).

Finally, we cannot ignore the inherent contradictions in our own message. We are asking instructors and students to integrate the use of vernacular varieties into the composition classroom without significantly changing the expectations for AWE as the default language variety in academic and professional situations; this has the effect of upholding appropriateness-based stances and maintaining the second class status of other language varieties. We need to acknowledge the ways we uphold the SLI in our own professional practices. If composition students are to truly have the right to their own language and be able to make real choices about which language variety to use in a given rhetorical situation, then the dominance of standardized varieties like AWE on academic genres needs to continue to be challenged and ultimately to shift. Other varieties of English need to become accepted in classrooms, conferences, academic writing, and academic publishing, only then will language variation and language diversity have a chance to be truly accepted.


This study received approval from the Institutional Review Board at Idaho State University. (Approval no. IRB-FY2018-223). Institutional Review Boards ensure that research is conducted ethically. All participants were informed ahead of time of the purpose of the survey. By taking part in the survey, they give their consent for their anonymous responses to be used as part of presentations at academic conferences or in publications.


  • 1 Underline, bold, and italic will be used to highlight relevant parts of the text. They are not part of the original resolution.
  • 2 I would like to thank my graduate student, Price Lassahn-Worrell, for the work he did on the original survey.

Appendix A

Survey Questions

  • 1. I have the following linguistic training:
    • • Introduction to linguistics
    • • Phonetics/phonology
    • • Semantics
    • • Morphology
    • • Syntax
    • • Psycholinguistics
    • • Sociolinguistics
    • • Discourse analysis
    • • Second language acquisition
    • • No linguistics training or courses
  • 2. I define dialect as:
  • 3. I think I am aware that my students might use a dialect different from Academic English

Very aware Aware Neither aware or unaware Unaware

  • 4. I feel a student’s dialect is a barrier to learning Written Academic English Strongly agree Agree Neither agree or disagree Disagree Strongly disagree
  • 5. Please explain your answer
  • 6. I have recognized the following types of dialect features used by my students (Select all that apply)
  • • Lexis/vocabulary (e.g., about vs. approximately; currently vs. presently; farther vs. further; that vs. which) (1)
  • • Grammar/structure (e.g., I was vs. I were; I been thinking vs. I have been thinking; themselves vs. theirselves; I came to town vs. I come to town) (2)
  • • Pronunciation/accent (e.g., park vs. pahk; wa-ter vs. wah-der; mir-ror vs. meet) (3)
  • 7. I have discussed these features with my students

A great deal A lot A moderate amount A little Not at all

8. Please explain your answer

9. Do you agree with the NCTE (1974) Resolution on Students’ Right to Their Own Language?

Yes No

10. In what contexts should the use of a student’s home language be encouraged?

Spoken Written

  • 11. In what types of writing should the use of a student’s home language be encouraged?
  • • Academic writing—Edited prose
  • • The drafting stages of writing—Please specify
  • • Other writing genres—Please specify
  • 12. I balance a student’s right to their own language (NCTE 1974) with the rules of Academic Written English.

A great deal A lot A moderate amount A little Not at all

  • 13. Please explain
  • 14. I encourage students’ individual voices in their writing by
  • 15. Are you familiar with code meshing?

Yes No

16. Do you encourage your students to use code meshing in their writing?

Yes No

  • 17. In what contexts do you encourage/allow your students to use code meshing?
  • • Freewriting
  • • Journal writing
  • • Preliminary drafts of their writing
  • • Final version of a paper
  • • Other
  • 18. In what types of courses do you think it is appropriate for students to use code meshing in their writing?
  • • First year composition courses
  • • Courses that study World Englishes
  • • Courses that study language variation
  • • Writing courses
  • • Literature courses
  • • Other

19. Do you train graduate students or other teacher candidates to teach writing or Freshman composition?

Yes No

20. Do you include information on the NCTE Students’ Right to their own Language resolution as part of your curriculum?

Yes No

21. Do you include information on students’ dialects/home language as part of your curriculum?

Class discussion Course module or unit separate course Other

22. What other resources or training do you include in your curriculum to help your students teach speakers of other varieties of English or speakers of other languages?


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