Nonstandardized Englishes in Mainstream Literacy Practice
Summary and Keywords
The term Englishes refers to the many different varieties of the English, and represents both standardized and nonstandardized forms. Nonstandardized Englishes is used to refer to Englishes that do not adhere to what has been determined to be Standard English within a given context, such that they are referred to as dialects, Creoles, or New Englishes (e.g., African American English). Standardized Englishes is used to refer to the counterparts of the nonstandardized Englishes that have been typically adopted for use in literacy classrooms (e.g., Standard American English).
The field of literacy has addressed nonstandardized Englishes by either focusing on the nonstandardized varieties in isolation from standardized Englishes or by advancing literacy instruction in mainstream classrooms that emphasizes dialect-English speakers’ mastery of standardized Englishes. This approach reflects standard monolingual English ideology and traditional notions of the English language. Operating based on standard monolingual English perspectives implicitly reinforces the view that standardized Englishes and their users are privileged and that speakers of nonstandardized Englishes and their users are inferior. In addition, adhering to traditional notions of English based on their geographical and nation-based use, as opposed to their function based on school, offline, or online contexts regardless of geography, reinforces the concept of the English language as a system and fails to emphasize its communicative and contextual purposes as demanded by our postmodern era of globalization, transnationalism, and internationalization. A translingual approach to Englishes can serve as an alternative to current ways of thinking about literacy instruction because it addresses the needs of both standardized and nonstandardized English-speaking populations. Literacy instruction reframed based on this approach is critical for students’ successful interaction across linguistic and cultural boundaries in the context of the 21st century.
Nonstandardized Englishes in Mainstream Literacy Practice
The term Englishes refers to the many different varieties of English, such that the language fails to represent a single monolithic standard and instead takes plurality, variation, and change within the English language to be a norm (Kachru, 1992; Kirkpatrick, 2007). As many have noted, there continues to be a subtle underlying notion that there is one perceived English—a “standard”—to which all must subscribe. But, as Gilsdorf noted, “English is, of course, multiple Englishes” (p. 3), representing the many different varieties of English that represent plurality, variation, and change within the English language as a norm (Kachru, 1992; Kirkpatrick, 2007; Schneider, 2014). Those who have examined Englishes within the context of education support the pluralistic notion of English, not as a standard static language, but rather as a multifaceted pluralistic living construct—“Englishes”—that operates along a communication spectrum. From this perspective, Englishes represent the interweaving of both standardized (e.g., Standard American English) and nonstandardized (e.g., African American English) forms and is reflective of the multiple literacies that students who speak variants of English bring to the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom.
Thus, Englishes represent both standardized (e.g., Standard American English) and nonstandardized (e.g., African American English) forms. Nonstandardized Englishes refer to Englishes that do not adhere to what has been determined to be a Standard English within a given context, such that they are referred to as dialects, Creoles, or New Englishes (e.g., Standard American English; Kirkpatrick & Deterding, 2011) and standardized Englishes refer to their counterparts that have been typically adopted for use in literacy classrooms (e.g., Standard American English). According to Schneider (2007) in his extension of Kachru’s (1992) model, nonstandardized Englishes progress through several stages on their way to standardization within a particular society. A colonial variety of English first arrives in the society, and the colonial variety provides the standards for English use in classrooms. As speakers create a new variety of English based on the linguistic systems and cultural norms of their first languages, this new variety is often initially considered deficient and inferior to the colonial variety of English; it may then eventually be socially accepted as a standard English and accepted for use in the classroom, following which it can develop its own subvarieties. Due to the processes through which nonstandardized Englishes progress prior to the acceptance of the English as a standardized English form, their speakers often undergo challenges with finding acceptance of these Englishes in academic contexts. Thus, students who speak these Englishes find it difficult to have their literacy needs addressed in the classroom (Siegel, 2012).
At the micro level, the challenges faced by students with nonstandardized Englishes often arise from the connotations of the nonstandardized Englishes that they speak as their “native” or home languages. In earlier research, these Englishes were considered as deviating from what was referred to as Standard English, and connotations developed to delegitimize students who spoke such Englishes. More recent understandings have clarified misconceptions about Englishes, challenging the view of a certain English as “standard” and its nonstandardized English variants as somehow “less standardized,” and, by extension, less acceptable in literacy classrooms. Connotations that influence the acceptance (or non-acceptance) of students’ Englishes are often influenced by race, culture, class, and the ways in which they appropriate the variants of English that they use (Dyson, 1999, 2004; Winn & Behizadeh, 2011; Godley & Loretto, 2013; Isenbarger & Willis, 2006; Literacy Research Association, 2016; Martínez, 2013; Martínez-Roldan & Sayer, 2006; Paris, 2012; Souto-Manning, 2013; Willis, 2015). Moreover, in addition to the influence of race and culture, these variations are all mediated by context, so that certain variants of nonstandardized English, such as those spoken by Asians, Europeans, and white Americans, are privileged in literacy classrooms over those spoken by students of African descent.
Take, for instance, the case of Trinidad and Tobago, where three linguistic varieties are used: Trinidad and Tobago Standard English (TSE), most often used in academic settings; the Trinidadian English-lexicon Creole (TEC), most often used in informal settings in Trinidad; and the Tobagonian English-lexicon Creole (TOB), also used primarily in informal contexts in Tobago (Ferreira, 2013). TSE, which acts as an acrolect, is closest to what we know as Standard English (i.e., Standard American English). TEC, on the other hand, functions as a mesolect, given that its status is lower than TSE and that it deviates significantly from the standard English language. TOB, a basilect, is the least acknowledged in status and is less structurally aligned with TSE than its TEC counterpart. Because Trinidadian and Tobagonian youth primarily reside on one or the other of the twin islands, they are primarily bidialectal, with each being exposed to two of the three linguistic varieties. Specifically, youth in Trinidad are exposed largely to the TEC mesolect and, to a lesser degree, the TSE acrolect. Similarly, youth who reside in Tobago are more often exposed to the TOB basilect and, less often, to the TSE acrolect. As a result, Trinidadian and Tobagonian youth speak predominantly TEC or TOB as their primary language (Craig, 2006; Roberts, 2007).
At the macro level, the challenges faced by speakers of Englishes has been largely informed by colonialism as it relates to education, and, specifically, language and literacy education, where norms arise based on broader sociopolitical factors, factors that point to the inadvertent impact of power and privilege on youth in the educational system and that govern (non) acceptance of nonstandardized Englishes in literacy classrooms. Colonialism has been taken to refer to the “imposition of economic and political relationships within a society by another country” (Thompson, Warrican, & Leacock, 2011, p. 61). The imposers often represented British, French, Spanish, or Dutch imperial powers, and the colonized represented countries and societies on which relationships were imposed. Despite the independence of most colonized countries, colonialism remains prevalent, such that hegemonic powers (e.g., British, French, Dutch imposers) continue to inordinately influence the curriculum, language, and educational processes of newer countries (i.e., colonized societies) by way of educational policies and assessments that they enact and legitimize across the globe. This influence then largely determines, implicitly or explicitly, that newer nations (i.e., the colonized) conform to the norms of dominant countries’ educational systems and policies if their own educational systems and practices are to be regarded as “proper” and legitimate (Dale, 2000).
The requirement for conformity to dominant educational systems of the colonizing powers has been largely responsible for the current impositions on the language and literacy instruction and assessment of nation states in what is a supposedly post-colonial era (Dale, 2000). As St. Hilaire (2011) observed, the colonial past continues to be present in many postcolonial societies, creating what is known as the “colonial present.” The colonial present, visible in instances where a stigma persists against supposedly “low status” English vernaculars within instructional language and literacy contexts and where students, teachers, and parents are continuously oriented toward favoring standardized Englishes for assessment and instruction (St. Hilaire, 2011), reinforces the use of presumed standardized Englishes as the norm based on educational systems informed by traditional hegemonies of the colonial past. Thus, even while hegemonic systems appear to advocate for literacy and language instruction and assessment aligned with a postcolonial future by way of inclusion of culturally and linguistically diverse populations, a subtle reliance on standardized English(es) continues to govern literacy instruction that is representative of the “pervasive and co-dependent relationship of the colonizer and the colonized” (Thompson, Warrican, & Leacock, 2011, p. 61), one that inadvertently positions individuals for or against the nonstandardized Englishes of youth in literacy classrooms.
Understanding the Need for Attending to Nonstandardized Englishes in Literacy
The dominance of standardized Englishes globally continues to present a significant literacy challenge for those whose nonstandardized Englishes continue to receive little acceptance within the academic arena (Alim, 2009; Canagarajah & Said, 2011; Craig, 2006; Nero, 2006; Pennycook, 2013; Siegel, 2012). To date, approximately 335,000,000 individuals in 99 countries across the world are said to speak English as a first language and at least 100 additional countries regard English as a second language, making English the third most widely spoken language in the world (Lewis, Simons, & Fennig, 2014). As a result, for millions of youth enrolled in schools across the world, educational systems emphasize standardized English literacy teaching and learning while inadvertently neglecting nonstandardized English varieties, to the detriment of the literacy development of nonstandardized English-speaking youth (Davies, Hamp-Lyons, & Kemp, 2003; TESOL, 2008).
In keeping with the need for an emphasis on nonstandardized Englishes in literacy instruction, ample evidence suggests that approaches have been taken to address their prevalence in educational settings across the globe. This research has documented primarily the ways in which the literacy learning of speakers of nonstandardized Englishes might be targeted so that they might be better positioned as standardized speakers of literacy. However, less research is available that documents the extent to which these approaches may have unwittingly reinforced dominant standardized Englishes even while they work to ameliorate the challenges faced by speakers of nonstandardized Englishes for learning literacy. In other words, while efforts have been made to ensure that nonstandardized speakers develop proficiency with standardized Englishes, there has been little evidence that their standardized English-speaking counterparts have also been exposed to the varieties of English in mainstream literacy instruction that are critical to communicating effectively with linguistically diverse populations across the globe.
In 21st century educational systems where youth increasingly rely on nonstandardized Englishes for communicating with their linguistically diverse peers, an approach that addresses the literacy needs of speakers of both nonstandardized and standardized Englishes can prove useful. Such an approach seems invaluable for two main reasons. First, migration trends have shifted the ways in which language and literacy function globally, requiring changes in our approach to language and literacy instruction (Hornberger, 2007; Lam & Warriner, 2012). For instance, transnationalism, translingualism, internationalism, and globalization have expanded the communicative interactions of youth across national and international boundaries in ways that increasingly require them to rely on a variety of New Englishes, linguistic contexts that support these Englishes, and multiple literacies that facilitate their effective use of the language varieties across social, geographic, and technological boundaries (Cambridge & Thompson, 2004; Levitt, 2001; Portes, Guarnizo, & Landolt, 1999; Spring, 2014). This linguistic diaspora—with its fluidity of people, goods, and information—now demands that youth view Englishes (and not English) as a social activity and not as a system. Today, the physical and online spaces in which our youth function expose them to many unfamiliar languages and their varieties in the global community, where their communicative functions can be challenged in the absence of their ability to use a variety of Englishes (Blommaert, 2013; Canagarajah, 2006; Pennycook, 2008; Lam, 2013, 2014).
Second, and consequently, the linguistically diverse who migrate globally in the 21st century must develop literate repertoires that allow them to leverage language resources within dominant monolingual and monocultural contexts—as well as across their multilingual and multicultural worlds. Similarly, the linguistically diverse who are natives of a given country must have opportunities to practice literacy, based on hybrid ways of using language across different contexts. In a global society, monolinguals and multilinguals must be prepared to be grapple with social, economic, and cultural differences, as they interact with linguistically diverse groups within the transnational milieu of an ever more pluralistic world (Canagarajah, 2006; Jacquemet, 2005). More specifically, their literate ability is compromised if they are incapable of using and understanding a variety of Englishes for literate purposes that suit the various contexts in which they function. Put simply, if countries intend to prepare students in ways that help them to produce citizens capable of functioning globally, there is every reason to believe that all citizens—monolingual and multilingual alike—must be prepared to engage with Englishes that help them to meet the demands of interacting communicatively in a diverse society. This seems even more compelling given the indications that monolingual speakers fail to benefit from an ability to navigate the cross-linguistic and cross-cultural terrain so adeptly traversed by their multilingual and, in this case, dialect-speaking counterparts (see Adesope, Lavin, Thompson, & Ungerleider, 2010, for a meta-analysis on cognitive advantages of multilingualism in children; and Hilchey & Klein, 2011, for advantages in adults).
This article covers several aspects of research on nonstandardized Englishes: Research conducted on nonstandardized Englishes in mainstream literacy instruction indicates the ways in which these Englishes have been addressed. Research on nonstandardized Englishes has failed to be effective for nonstandardized English speakers and the research surrounding nonstandardized Englishes has unwittingly reinforced the dominance of standardized Englishes by promoting them as the target language in nonstandardized English literacy instruction. The political and theoretical premises on which much of the research has been grounded are also important. A translingual approach to literacy instruction surrounding Englishes helps to reframe the way that nonstandardized and standardized Englishes are leveraged for instruction in mainstream literacy classrooms. Finally, practical suggestions based on the translingual approach and recommendations for future research can provide better insights into this approach.
Examining Research on Nonstandardized Englishes and Literacy
To date, the literature on nonstandardized languages highlights three instructional approaches through which nonstandardized Englishes have been addressed in literacy instruction: (a) instrumental, (b) accommodation, and (c) awareness approaches (Siegel, 1999). Instrumental programs for speakers of nonstandardized English use the language variety to enable them to master reading in Standard English; accommodation programs do not teach, but accept, nonstandardized vernacular use in the classroom, yet they do not focus on nonstandardized English competence; and awareness programs insist on Standard English as the language of instruction while capitalizing on home language variety as a resource area of study (Nero, 2000). Evidence shows that students who are able to be part of accommodation or awareness (i.e., acceptance) programs over extended periods of time stand to benefit from acquiring reading mastery, and developing their sense of self-confidence, motivation, and cognitive growth in reading (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1988; Thomas & Collier, 1997), thereby inspiring teachers to attend to their nonstandardized varieties, and from metalinguistic awareness that enables them to use contrastive methods to focus on differences between their nonstandardized and standardized language varieties (Rickford, 1999; Winer, 1989). A small subset of the literature concerning four major groups of NSE speakers has been selected here as a means of highlighting the instructional literacy approach deployed to address the nonstandardized Englishes of youth.
Caribbean English Creole
With reference to Caribbean English Creole (CEC) speakers, the prominent body of research occurring in the later part of the 20th century has focused on the language awareness approach, as opposed to instrumental and accommodation approaches to nonstandardized English instruction (Pollard, 1993). CEC-speaking students have generally been placed in mainstream, special education, or English as a second language (ESL) programs. Mainstream programs have been shown to be detrimental to CEC-speaking students because teachers in these classes are generally unprepared to work with the students. Special education programs often attribute linguistic differences to underlying cognitive deficiencies and CEC-speaking students are often placed in ESL classes. While some Caribbean students have had adequate formal education, are proficient speakers of Standard English, and do well in literacy in the United States (West-White, 2003), many are more versed in their nonstandardized Englishes, or have with very low levels of schooling, and therefore fail to make adequate progress in Standard English when they arrive in the United States (Pratt-Johnson & Richards, 1995). Consistently, studies find that miscommunication exists between teachers and students because students are not comfortable with participating in classroom discussions. Teachers have difficulties addressing students’ errors arising from students’ lack of proficiency in the academic English language, which arises from differences in their structure, pronunciation, and vocabulary (Pratt-Johnson, 1993).
West African Pidgin English Speakers
The research on literacy and West African Pidgin English (WAPE) is limited (de Kleine, 2006) and therefore fails to reflect a specific instructional approach to nonstandardized English instruction. One study focused on assessment of grammatical errors in the writing samples of 851 secondary school English-speaking students from Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and indicated that a majority of students were designated as limited English proficient (LEP) and were therefore placed in ESL programs. A considerable number had not undergone an initial language assessment, suggesting that an overwhelming 84.5% of the West African students seemed not to have the requisite English language skills required by language and literacy in classrooms. In keeping with previous findings, results from the study further showed that grammar presented a challenge for all students and proved to be one of the key reasons for students’ designation as LEP and their assignment to ESL programs (de Kleine, 2006). Organizational structure, punctuation, and spelling also presented a challenge to students, primarily those placed in low-level ESL courses. Indications that very few of the students experienced interrupted formal education suggest that, for WAPE-speaking students, their WAPE language background serves as a critical factor that further compounds their social and cultural adjustment challenges. The confirmation that many students in the study had received ESL instruction for years without transitioning to a higher level is an indication that this instructional context is ineffective (de Kleine, 2006).
African-American Vernacular English
The peer-reviewed literature concerning nonstandardized Englishes and literacy for nonstandardized African-American English (AAE) speakers remains limited. However, since 2000, studies have seemed to address literacy in relation to African-American English (i.e., African-American Vernacular English) equally at the elementary and secondary levels. At the elementary level, the literature has focused primarily on assessment (and not instruction) of AAE versus Standard American English (SAE) in relation to various components of phonological awareness, such as phoneme deletion, letter-word recognition, word identification, and word attack skills (Apel & Thomas-Tate, 2009; Charity, Scarborough, & Griffin, 2004; Connor & Craig, 2006; Sligh & Connor, 2003). Findings showed that student speakers of AAE (a) demonstrated higher reading achievement on SAE reading measures when they were more familiar with SAE, (b) were better able to perform word-initial phoneme deletion tasks, and (c) performed better on overall phonological awareness when they used AAE features more frequently. Additional findings from studies conducted at the elementary level revealed that AAE-speaking students (a) performed poorly on spelling measures that introduced dialect-sensitive features, (b) performed poorly on spelling measures that introduced dialect-sensitive and dialect-neutral features if they were struggling readers, (c) tended to use more AAE features in oral narrations that lacked expectations for SAE use, (d) were more adept on standardized tests of reading and vocabulary when capable of dialect-shifting between SAE and AAE, (e) performed better on word-level reading spelling and receptive vocabulary when they possessed higher levels of morphological awareness, and (f) demonstrated primarily phonological features during oral reading and morphosyntactic features during writing (Apel & Thomas-Tate, 2009; Conner & Craig, 2006; Craig, Thompson, Washington, & Potter, 2003; Craig & Washington, 2004; Patton-Terry & Connor, 2010; Thompson, Craig, & Washington, 2004).
In contrast, much of the literature on AAE and literacy at the secondary level reflects a significant amount of variation among studies. The research has focused primarily on assessing students’ use of AAE versus SAE, but unlike at the primary level, also attended to certain components of the language awareness approach. Among areas researched were comprehension, reading achievement, dialect use in English Language Arts classes, students’ linguistic awareness, consideration of SES level, age, and gender in AAE production, and students’ own acknowledgment of their uses of linguistic registers (Fisher & Lapp, 2013; Godley & Escher, 2012; Godley & Loretto, 2013; Godley & Minnici, 2008; Horton-Ikard & Miller, 2004; Paris, 2012; Thurmond, 1977). Findings indicated (a) the influence of AAE on reading achievement as measured by standardized tests, (b) the ways in which students’ linguistic awareness enabled them to be better focused on differences between SAE and AAE, (c) students’ conflicting ideologies about the linguistic registers believed to be used in the classroom versus what they privileged in their speech, and (d) the presence of over 20 AAE morphosyntactic features in the oral conversations of middle socioeconomic status AAE students differing in age, gender, and sampling context. One study conducted at the college level and integrating certain components of the language awareness approach found benefits in allowing students to integrate AAE discourse as a legitimate form of academic literacy as students took turns with academic writing conversations (Sanchez, 2010). Research focused on learners across the elementary and secondary grades indicated a significant decrease in their use of AAE between grades one and four and a significant correlation between mothers’ and children’s use of AAE (van Hofwegen & Walt, 2010).
Findings from studies focused on teacher-preparation programs revealed that teachers were capable of improving knowledge of, and attitudes toward, AAE when they were engaged in components of a language awareness approach where writing instruction required them to transform sentences from SAE into AAE (Fogel & Ehri, 2006). However, survey research showed that teachers demonstrated a preference for SAE over AAE in spite of willingness to address linguistic diversity in classrooms (Newkirk-Turner, Williams, Harris, & McDaniels, 2013).
Hawai’i Creole English
Research focused on Hawai’i Creole English (HCE) speakers indicates that students and teachers both used HCE and English in classrooms but that students were covertly encouraged to privilege Standard English, and, even without encouragement, tended to shift to Standard English usage in schools (Menacker, 2004). Programs leveraged for speakers of HCE appeared to be based primarily on principles of ESL teaching and therefore failed to recognize students’ unique needs using a language awareness approach (Rogers, 2002). Among programs emphasizing such an approach were the Hawai’i English Program (HEP) and the Kamehameha Early Education Program (KEEP). The HEP engendered respect for HCE Pidgin, allowed students to explain and discuss dialect and choice of language, enabled them to identify features of HCE and distinguish between these features and those of English, made use of HCE literature, and provided students with opportunities to translate from one language to the other (Rogers, 1996). The KEEP program modified the discourse styles used by students and teachers in the classroom so that they reflected more closely the discourse styles of students’ homes and communities. Findings from this program indicated gains on measures of reading achievement, improved academic engagement, and enhanced language abilities in Standard English and HCE. By and large, many teachers in Hawai’i failed to draw on the use of Pidgin materials or to encourage students to become adept with the use of its features (Eades, Jacobs, Hargrove, & Menacker, 2006).
Overall, the literature concerning AAE and literacy reflects a concerted yet disparate effort to address what has been deemed a continued and pervasive challenge in schools: the literacy underperformance of African-American English speakers. Studies at elementary, secondary, and college levels focus primarily on summative assessment of students’ ability to perform in SAE by attending to features of AAE and their interaction with phonology to impact comprehension across text genres on standardized reading assessment measures. Increasingly, studies have begun to consider the narratives and counter-narratives of students’ uses of AAE and the ways in which they align with language ideologies that either support or oppose standardized English. This increasing emphasis persists despite the tendency of other researchers to focus on close reading, informative texts, and comprehension required by the CCS ELA standards. Understanding how AAE affects reading based on formative assessment measures, such as retelling, encoding, writing, running records, miscue analysis, reader behaviors, and literate conversation around text, is useful in providing insight into AAE readers’ processes that can further inform instruction. However, the acknowledgment of students’ responses to their nonstandardized Englishes versus the written and oral standardized Englishes privileged in ELA classrooms is just as critical. Studies that focused on certain components of the language awareness approach appeared to be done in predominantly secondary, college, and teacher preparation settings. The limited focus on cultural considerations in the studies reviewed raises questions about the degree to which literacy concerns can be addressed by considering language as an artifact separate from its racial, class, cultural, and media contexts. This issue is particularly salient because of the assumptions made concerning the universality of AAE across U.S. states, particularly when numerous varieties exist within AAE. Finally, while studies focus on knowledge needed for preparing teachers to address AAE in classrooms, there seems to be a need for focusing more on beliefs—and specifically teacher and educator ideologies about nonstandardized English varieties in schools and in teacher-preparation programs—to address discrepancies between knowledge and the use of this knowledge in classrooms, and the extent to which ideologies tend to hinder students’ abilities to navigate their own linguistic repertoires and those they encounter in classrooms (Razfar, Troiano, Nasir, Yang, Rumenapp, & Torres, 2015; Smith & Kumi-Yeboah, 2015; Smith, Warrican, & Kumi-Yeboah, 2016). To facilitate this process, it would be necessary to examine in more detail the extent to which teachers and teacher educators are knowledgeable about nonstandardized Englishes and the ways in which they are acquired and used.
Across this small subset of nonstandardized English-speaking populations, the limited research that has been examined reflects that the three instructional approaches to addressing nonstandardized Englishes all focus on the nonstandardized English speaker as the beneficiary of instruction, on the need for this speaker to develop the literate norms that guide standardized Englishes in these contexts, and a lack of emphasis on literacy instruction in nonstandardized Englishes that targets monolingual English speakers. These arguments suggest that overall, the concerns raised about nonstandardized English instruction have been powerful enough to limit the number of instrumental approaches utilized in U.S. literacy instruction research, thereby preventing literacy instruction that prioritizes learning of features of these English varieties. Moreover, the arguments help to explain why instructional approaches, although introduced intermittently (for populations such as AAE speakers), remain largely absent from literacy curriculum for others (e.g., WAPE and CEC speakers). Thus, the evidence shows that emphasis has been placed on a language awareness approach across three of these nonstandardized English-speaking populations and has therefore privileged standardized Englishes as the goal for literacy instruction. Moreover, the large number of studies that focus on assessing learners’ use of Englishes in different areas of literacy suggest a focus on production of language and not on communicating effectively across contexts, a skill increasingly useful for the interacting in the global community of the 21st century.
Challenges with Current Approaches to Nonstandardized Englishes in Literacy
The research evidence presented from major nonstandardized English-speaking populations indicates that attempts to justify the need for attention to nonstandardized Englishes have failed to have due impact. One such instance exists in the case of the United States, where nonstandardized English varieties in the country appear to have been addressed in a myriad of ways, all of which are based on current policy but seem to inadequately address learners’ needs. For example, both American-born speakers and immigrant speakers self-report some knowledge of “English,” causing their nonstandardized (i.e., dialect) Englishes to be miscategorized as Standardized Englishes. This results in their placement in mainstream (“sink or swim”) English classrooms where they struggle to advance. Other speakers, specifically immigrant NSE speakers, are categorized as ESL learners, despite the fact that this solution has also proven to be a poor fit (Adger, 1997; Coard, 1971; Coelho, 1988, 1991; de Kleine, 2006; Narvaez & Garcia, 1992; Nero, 2001, 2006; Pratt-Johnson, 1993; Winer, 2006). Still other immigrant speakers, much like their AAE-speaking counterparts, are misclassified and are overrepresented in special education programs (Pratt-Johnson, 1993; Winer, 1993, 2006). These challenges have been further exacerbated by parental decisions about whether students are allowed to access English instruction (Simmons-McDonald, 2004), the contexts in which they are allowed to do so (Winn & Behizadeh, 2011; Godley & Loretto, 2013; Souto-Manning, 2013), and the language ideologies that are relied upon in the instruction provided in these contexts (Smith, 2016), all of which affect students’ progression and cultural ways of doing and learning English in literacy classrooms. For those who migrate to the United States, such as South Korean and Japanese students, who have a compelling urge to learn English, the “English fever” phenomenon has developed an industry around “selling” English widely to immigrant parents. This has also tended to unwittingly affect students, given that certain cultural and linguistic norms are associated with how these students respond to variants of English as they relate to their teachers and peers in instructional literacy contexts (see Park, 2009).
Instructional practices that rely on nonstandardized Englishes in literacy have been surmised to be ineffective for several reasons. Among the reasons are arguments claiming that nonstandardized Englishes limit time spent on Standard English and have no impact; pose the probability of interference or negative transfer from the first dialect to the second (Elsasser & Irvine, 1987); ultimately lead to ghettoization, that is, nonstandardized English usage keeps users in the ghetto (Snow, 1990); go contrary to the value of immersion for learning new language varieties; are significantly different from their standard English counterparts; have no proven positive effects for literacy; and are too impractical be considered specifically in codifying and developing materials for instruction (Siegel, 2006).
In addition to the reasons provided above, evidence points to official and restrictive English-only policies that reinforce deficit orientations toward multilingualism by:
• requiring that multilingual learners move primarily toward English proficiency in settings where Englishes are taught (as opposed to providing mainstream instruction in literacy that allows them to learn both English and their home languages);
• inadvertently perpetuating a cycle of failure for multilingual learners through assessment on K-12 subject matter in standardized Englishes that are different from their nonstandardized Englishes and that they do not know; and
• insisting on a notion of multilingualism that attends largely to differences between standardized languages (i.e., English, Spanish, French), but that fails to address variations within standardized languages, such as African-American Vernacular English, Caribbean English Creole, West African Pidgin English, Hawai’i Creole English (Abedi, 2004; Menken, 2013; Mitchell, 2013; Nero, 2013; Smith, Cheema, Kumi-Yeboah, Warrican, & Alleyne, 2018).
This is particularly true in countries like the United States, where, although steps have been taken to enact policies designed to enhance the literate proficiency of multilingual learners (see Abedi, 2004; Menken, 2013), there continue to be dichotomous ways of thinking about language that legitimize Standard [American] English and designate nonstandardized Englishes (i.e., English dialects, English vernaculars, or English Creoles) as inferior, while selectively legitimizing their standardized English counterparts (Lippi-Green, 1997; Wiley, 2014). Despite efforts of scholars like Kenneth Goodman to demonstrate the influence of nonstandardized Englishes (Goodman, 1970; Goodman & Buck, 1973) and the potential of dialect readers in the 1960s and 1970s (Rickford & Rickford, 1995), the degree of difficulty in reading the orthographies of nonstandardized Englishes (see Goodman, 1972) has significantly affected progress in this area.
In response to these challenges, conclusive evidence has pointed to the need for learners to receive literacy instruction that is premised on bidialectal principles of language learning (Siegel, 2010), addresses students’ awareness of linguistic features across nonstandardized and standardized languages (Nero, 2006; Rickford, 2006; Siegel, 2010), considers the cultural backgrounds of students in literacy and language instruction (Delpit, 2006a, 2006b; Ladson-Billings, 1999, 2014; Paris, 2012), prepares teachers to be receptive to the nonstandardized language features and cultures of students, and provides opportunities for these linguistic registers and the associated cultures to be validated in classrooms if students are to feel that they are legitimate participants in the process (Au, 2000). Moreover, the research acknowledges clearly that speakers of nonstandardized English have language and literacy needs that differ from those of their standard monolingual and bilingual counterparts because they utilize linguistic varieties that are legitimate, that are rule governed, and that distinctively differ from standardized norms (Baugh, 1992; Labov, 1969; Smitherman, 2000).
As shown, the attempts that have been made thus far to address nonstandardized Englishes for youth have proposed to achieve goals for enhancing their English literacy by focusing on the students’ repertoires with Englishes in isolation from their monolingual English-speaking counterparts. Notwithstanding, the needs of speakers of nonstandardized English remain inefficiently addressed. But, as has been shown, it is not only the speakers of nonstandardized English who suffer in such a situation. In fact, monolingual speakers, too, who speak standardized English, fail to benefit from an ability to navigate cross-linguistic and cross-cultural terrain so adeptly traversed by their culturally and linguistically diverse multilingual counterparts when they are omitted from instructional settings that address literacy with various Englishes. Discussion of translingual language ideology provides further clarification as well as an avenue for envisioning a solution that benefits both monolingual and multilingual populations.
Considering a Translingual Approach to Nonstandardized Englishes in Literacy
It seems, then, that a different approach might be useful, one that allows for bridging the gap in literacy instruction by addressing Englishes for both speakers of standardized English and speakers of nonstandardized English. The translingual approach describes the ways in which individuals communicate translingually across communities and how transnational groups use communicative practices to interact by relying on “different languages and communicative codes simultaneously present in a range of communicative channels, both local and distant” (Pennycook, 2008, p. 30.4). The translingual perspective challenges nation-based language use, historical disparities among Englishes premised on linguistic imperialism, standard language ideology, marginalization of nonstandard English varieties, and denigration of nonstandardized speakers and their uses of English in English literacy classrooms (Kachru, 2006). The translingual model dismantles claims based on linguistic imperialism, where “the dominance of English . . . asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages” (Phillipson, 1992, p. 47) reinforces superiority of Englishes spoken by groups with power in society and the superiority of the speakers of these Englishes themselves (Pennycook, 2008). Simply put, a translingual approach challenges standard language ideology that favors standard spoken language and that serves to further denigrate Englishes that are not spoken by groups and persons of power (Lippi-Green, 1997; Pennycook, 2008).
The ideologies of English perpetuated by a translingual model legitimize Englishes based on their social context, and therefore, question whether nonstandardized Englishes and their speakers can be covertly or overtly designated inferior due to the superiority of a standard (in this case, Standard American English). For those who operate under this model, there is direct opposition to notions of linguistic profiling based on speakers’ auditory cues (Baugh, 2003) and the idea that individuals are defined by their linguistic repertoires (Tollefson, 2011). Even for speakers of nonstandardized English, who often inadvertently maintain an ongoing shift between the denigration and celebration of their nonstandard English varieties, reflecting what has been referred to as “attitudinal schizophrenia” (Kachru & Nelson, 2001), the translingual model provides an avenue through which they envision their linguistic repertoires as legitimate while learning to engage comfortably with their monolingual counterparts. Through a translingual approach, speakers of nonstandardized English(es) begin to identify the self-marginalization (i.e., neglect and abandonment) of their localized English(es) in educational settings and how they subtly reinforce the privileging of Standard English(es) over their own localized varieties (Gruber, 2006; Jenkins, 2007). A translingual approach opposes ideologies about Englishes that denigrate, marginalize, and discriminate against learners who speak nonstandardized Englishes in U.S. schools and that inadvertently reinforce notions of monolingual learners that their privileged use of Standard American English is warranted regardless of context. Moreover, it questions why the hegemony of those who define Standard American English, that is, those whom the ideology supports, should be bolstered by the unwitting attitudinal schizophrenia of the speakers of nonstandardized English.
The translingual approach can provide a path for both monolingual and multilingual K-12 populations to have the linguistic and literate capacity, as well as the appropriate way of thinking about Englishes (i.e., English language ideology), that allow them to interact effectively in the 21st century (Hornberger, 2007; Lam & Warriner, 2012). A translingual approach to thinking about Englishes can challenge dichotomous notions about differences among Englishes and provide a way to address ideologies about these Englishes in ways that highlight the benefits for both monolingual and multilingual English-speaking populations (Jacquemet, 2005; Pennycook, 2008). Despite the often-willful adherence of both sides in the current dynamic, a translingual model succeeds in upending this ideology, acknowledging that the language ideologies of one population cannot be addressed without the other. Thus, by avoiding a dichotomy, translingualism seeks a path to reconciliation. In doing so, a translingual approach illustrates how addressing the pervasive impact of current dominant ideologies about standardized Englishes surrounding speakers of nonstandardized English requires a broader discourse around literacy instruction, one that extends beyond the dichotomy of nonstandardized versus standardized, native versus nonnative, etc., and one that invites, instead, discourse around a both−and approach to literacy and language instruction, one that advocates for discourse across standardized and nonstandardized linguistically diverse boundaries and between standardized and nonstandardized speakers (Smith, 2016).
Conclusion and Recommendations for Future research
The power of standardized Englishes across the globe continues to delegitimize nonstandardized Englishes and their speakers while simultaneously serving to reinforce norms for literacy instruction in educational practice that favor standardized Englishes. The research surrounding four major populations of nonstandardized English speakers, although limited, highlights the ineffectiveness of literacy instruction thus far for nonstandardized speakers and demonstrates how English-speaking populations that deviate from the standardized English norm are inadvertently positioned along an oppositional spectrum, such that they are expected to benefit from literacy instruction that moves them toward targeted English standards, while their monolingual English-speaking counterparts fail to be exposed to similar instruction that can be useful for their literate interaction in the 21st century. A translingual approach to literacy instruction can be useful for bridging the gap between standardized and nonstandardized English speakers by helping to facilitate a transition from dichotomies to the creation of spaces that foster cross-national, cross-cultural, and cross-linguistic understandings within and across student−student, student−teacher, and teacher−teacher populations in literacy instruction. The translingual approach seems useful for encouraging a rethinking of language ideologies based on dichotomy and promoting ways of thinking about language that empower both monolingual and multilingual populations.
These recommendations in no way discredit or diminish the current efforts of teachers and teacher educators for nonstandardized English-speaking populations. Rather than being considered as additive to the existing frameworks, these recommendations may be considered in tandem with existing goals and can serve to provide more concrete structures for established mechanisms designed to support culturally and linguistically diverse student populations.
Overall, a shift in language ideology that deviates from a sole emphasis on standardized language is critical if all individuals, especially those who function as part of the dominant culture, are to become competitive in a globalized world. Countries stand to benefit from tapping into and channeling the rich linguistic resources that exists within the varieties of Englishes in their populations (Wiley, 2014). Bridging the gaps between monolingual and multilingual populations can create spaces in literacy curriculum for enhancing ideologies about Englishes that position global citizens more competitively within and beyond their national contexts.
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