Kirk Hazen

West Virginia University

Audio* | Handout

Language Variation as an Applicable Resource in Today's Classrooms

This paper provides teachers with useful knowledge and exercises for focusing students on language variation. Language variation is a natural resource in every linguistics classroom and can be used to teach students about both language and themselves. In making the argument that language variation is not only natural, but also a beneficial teaching tool, teachers should come to understand that the language variation in their own classrooms can be used to help their students discover how language works. Language variation examples cover several levels of social awareness and prescriptive legitimacy. Language variation patterns associated with certain nations, such as subject-verb concord differences between British English and US English, indicate that even traditional shibboleths can be widely embraced if socially supported. At the other end of the continuum, [f] pronunciations in words spelled with are examined to illustrate the highly different levels of stigmatization depending on sociocultural context.

As a rhetorical method in this chapter, language variation patterns will be presented in order of stigmatization, with least stigmatized patterns coming first. The rationale for this approach is to acclimate readers to the normalcy of language variation before contrasting social judgments (i.e., variable pronunciation of in the "r" of red (bunched tongue or curled), is generally less stigmatized than pronouncing birthday with an sound).

As all teachers who have dealt with sociolinguistics in a classroom can testify, truly getting students to abandon belief in a supreme correct English, and thus the consequential debasement of all language variation, is a feat that is rarely achieved. This paper aims at providing rationale and methods for potentially fundamental changes in the ways that students view language variation.


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