Baron, Dennis E. “Non-Standard English, Composition, and the Academic Establishment.” College English 37 2 (1975): 176-83. Print.

  • Baron begins by noting that the teaching of language has long been a subtle – and sometimes overt – experiment in social engineering b/c getting a group of people to “adopt an arbitrarily prescribed elite dialect” is always ideological (176).
  • B. notes that there have been three approaches to fixing what is referred to here as “non-standard speech” : 1) eradication – this is the destruction of one’s own linguistic process in the interest of cultivating a white man’s cultural and linguistic perspective.  Deficiencies in language use are perceived as signs of physical and moral decay; 2) bi-dialectical – this approach encourages pride in non-standard dialects; however, it stresses the relatively limited role a non-standard dialect can play in white, middle-class society.  This perspective also devalues non-standard dialects in all but the home or street; and 3) non-directive – this approach understands language systems as contextual and responsive to the needs of particular speech communities/acts.  This also notes that a reciprocal modification of the social system that dictates language use occurs when non-standard and standard Englishes exist in the same moment/context (176-7).
  • Baron contends that written codes – in contrast to spoken conversations – necessitate a different approach because “linguistic equilibrium” (the ability for two or more interlocutors to recognize how their linguistic knowledges/contexts allow them to negotiate spaces of meaning) must be unidirectional and prejudged by the writer (178).  This is doubly the case – according to Baron – in non-standard dialects because the writer must transliterate what is typically a spoken linguistic form.
  • Baron recognizes that many non-standard dialects actually arise out of a need to communicate maximally in systems that don’t allow for the kind of reasoned, critical-rational communication that happens to middle-class whites – in other words, he accounts for how power effects linguistic production (179).
  • In effect, Baron is recommending that the non-directive approach be utilized in English composition instruction.  This means that students would need to attend to the contextual – or rhetorical – nature of standard and non-standard language use.  Further, he notes that “If we know what the student meant, then communication has occurred.  It is not fair to confuse formal logic with intelligibility, nor is it really fair to externalize the situation by arguing that someone else might not understand what was said” (182).  So, Baron advocates that teacher’s concentrate on the “intellegiblity” of the written code rather than its conformity to a universal, objective “norm.”

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