In what ways have ethnic minority children in Britain and the USA been discriminated against in the education system because of their use of language? To what extent can bilingual/bidialectal education benefit these children?
While the link between language and educational advantage has been well-established, the efficacy of the various strategies designed to address this issue have been the subject of much debate. Dialects used by West Indian and African American students were traditionally classified as inferior forms of English and thus viewed as a problem rather than an asset or resource in the classroom, which resulted in an unfortunate history of biased educational processes that tended to discriminate against the use of such non-standard English by ethnic minority children. There has since been an evolution in educational ideology in which many linguists and educators have come to view language diversity as a resource that can be particularly beneficial in the relatively new area of multicultural education.
This has sparked an intense debate as to the value of linguistic diversity, the level of responsibility that educational institutions should have for the provision of instruction in languages other than Standard English, and the potential benefits and limitations of various forms of bilingual and bidialectal education.
The two predominant schools of thought in this debate are assimilationism, which favours education in Standard English only along with cultural assimilation for immigrants, and multiculturalism, which advocates for bilingual education and stresses the ideals of tolerance, the equality of various linguistic traditions, and the ability to hold more than one cultural identity. Evidence has emerged to support both sides of the debate to varying degrees, which suggests that the solution lies somewhere in between, although it should be noted that there is more evidence overall to support the multicultural perspective. This essay will examine the potential benefits and limitations of bilingual and bidialectal education with a focus on the Creole spoken by West Indians in the United Kingdom and the Ebonics spoken by the African-Americans in the United States.
The origins of the ideological split between assimilationist and multiculturalist thought regarding bilingual education in the United Kingdom can be traced to the 1960s influx of Caribbean immigrants, who brought with them an English dialect called “patios” by the West Indian immigrants and “Creole” by linguists. Creole’s roots can be traced to the slave trade, during which Africans who spoke a wide variety of languages were forced to develop a common language in order to communicate with one another. There is no current agreement as to whether Caribbean Creole should be classified an individual language or an English dialect because there have been no solid criteria established for such distinctions.
Creole differs from Standard English in that it uses “de” and “dem” to indicate plurality as opposed to marking plural nouns with suffixes, and subject-verb agreements are not required for singular nouns. In addition, tense inflections are not used for verbs, there are no passive verb constructions (such as “was taken”), and possession is indicated by the positioning of the possessor before the possessed in a sentence. Also, the “to be” verb is generally omitted. Finally, Creole has many syntactical constructions and even some words that are different from those found in Standard English. Although this language is governed by a complex series of rules, this fact was not initially recognised. In 1969, Creole was labelled by the National Association of Schoolmasters (NAS) as “plantation English,” which they described as “unacceptable and inadequate for communication.” Other descriptors used for Creole in a 1970 ATEPO report were “careless and slovenly” and “babyish.” Townsend (1971) described the Creole vocabulary as “restricted”.
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