Linguistic Variation in the L2 Classroom: Series Introduction

Within [a] social context, ‘non-standard’ has two meanings. First, it refers to whatever differs from the standard (i.e., most regional and social dialects). Second, it has the evaluative meaning of ‘incorrect’ or ‘bad’ usage, of language which is not merely non-standard but sub-standard. -Seargent Exploring World Englishes, p. 28.

A few weeks ago, I talked about my position against English-only institutional policies. After mulling it over some more, I’ve decided to dig into this from a slightly different perspective. Because if we’re going to talk about English language policy, we must necessarily ask ourselves, which English? So for this week, I’m going to look at linguistic variation in the L2 classroom; and, I’m going to use today’s blog update to orient you to how I plan on approaching this topic.

Applied Linguistic Controversies

I’m reading Barbara Seidlhofer’s edited collection entitled Controversies in Applied Linguistics. The first controversy that she decides to tackle is on the global spread of the English language, which she explores by using the work of Randolf Quirk, Braj B. Kachru, Margie Berns and her students, Robert Phillipson, and David Crystal. It’s an exciting series of articles, with plenty of barbs flying back and forth. What’s telling to me, however, is that this is the first controversy that she decides to take, in part because it is so heavily implicated in matters of power, dominance, and education. By examining the global spread of English, one will invariably encounter systemic variation. That is, Indian speakers of English use the language differently from UK speakers—often with differing lexicons, syntaxes, grammars, etc. However, depending on what side of the controversy you fall, you may argue that the English of the Indian speaker is non-standard in both senses mention in Seargent’s quote from the beginning of this post. Personally, I acknowledge that we live in a pluricentric world—one where there are multiple varieties of English, each with its domain of use and none of which are inherently superior to any other.

World Englishes, Linguistic Variation, and Pedagogy

However, how do we acknowledge linguistic variation in our teaching? Is it something to which we merely pay lip service while still strictly enforcing “standard English”? Or, do we embrace and celebrate linguistic variation in our teaching, no matter what trouble it may cause with assessment or the students’ overall educational goals? These are the questions that this week’s blog posts will be examining. And, I’m going to be doing this by trying to look at both sides of the argument.

On Wednesday, I’ll be discussing what a pedagogy that is tolerant of linguistic variation might look like. I’ll try to focus the conversation on ways that it might be realized in the classroom and how students might benefit from this. My approach will be heavily grounded in the world Englishes model as realized by Braj and Yamuna Kachru. This post will also serve as space for me to begin thinking through a workshop that I’ll be giving in NYC next month at NYU’s Pedagogies for Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Institute.

On Friday, I’ll take a look at the other side of the controversy. I’ll do this by outlining a case for a pedagogical approach that is aimed at standard language as its goal and measure of accomplishment. I plan to focus this argument around student assessment and success. This argument will be a challenging one for me to make, as I am somewhat opposed to it. But, I think that it’ll be a good practice for me to make sense of my thoughts.

Throughout this process, I’d love to hear from you about where you stand, why you take that position, and how it influences your pedagogical practice.

Source Books and Articles

Berns, et al. (1999). Hegemonic discourse revisited. International Journal of Applied Linguistics8(2), 271-282.

Crystal, D. (2000). On trying to be Crystal-clear: A response to Phillipson. Applied Linguistics, 21(3), 415-421.

Kachru, B.B. (1991). Liberation linguistics and the Quirk concern. English Today, 25, 3-13.

Phillipson, R. (1999). Voice in global English: Unheard chords in Crystal loud and clear. Applied Linguistics20(2), 265-276.

Quirk, R. (1990). Language varieties and standard language. English Today21, 3-10.

Seargent, P. (2012). Exploring World Englishes: Language in a Global Context. London: Routledge.

Siedlehofer, B. (2003). Controversies in Applied Linguistics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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