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ERIC Number: EJ1017138
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Sep
Pages: 18
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-1175-8708
A Sense of Place: Variation, Linguistic Hegemony and the Teaching of Literacy in English
Clark, Urszula
English Teaching: Practice and Critique, v12 n2 p58-75 Sep 2013
The ways in which literacy in English is taught in school generally subscribe to and perpetuate the notion of a homogenous, unvaried set of writing conventions associated with the language they represent, especially in relation to spelling and punctuation as well as grammar. Such teaching also perpetuates the myth that there is one "correct" way of language use which is "fixed" and invariant, and that any deviation is at best "incorrect" or "illiterate" and at worst, a threat to social stability. It is also very clear that the linguistic norms associated with standard English are predicated upon and replicate white, cultural hegemony. Yet, at the same time, there are plenty of literary and creative works written by authors from all kinds of different cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, including canonical ones, where spelling and punctuation are varied and championed as a sign of creativity. In the world beyond school, pupils are also surrounded by variational use of written language, especially in public displays such as shop signs, writing on mugs and t-shirts, posters, graffiti and so on, which link language to place. Equally, the voices we hear in entertainment and public broadcasting, far from being homogenous, celebrate diversity in Englishes. The homes and backgrounds of pupils in our schools, including their linguistic backgrounds, may also be very different either in terms of a different variation of English or languages spoken other than English. Since the emphasis is usually upon "correct" and "fixed" ways of teaching writing in English, it has often been difficult for teachers and pupils to reconcile the kind of English taught in school as the "correct" way and thus, by definition,all others as "incorrect." However, narrow definitions of linguistic "correctness" are becoming increasingly difficult to uphold given that the public spaces with which we are surrounded are peppered by examples of variational use in writing. Recent sociolinguistic research into variation points to an increasing fluidity of linguistic use, especially when it comes to public displays of writing, particularly in media such as newspapers, websites, shop signs, TV channel logos and so on. Linguistic variability can thus be seen as a resource in creating unique voices and marking allegiance to, for example, a particular place and culture. Such research is indicative of the fact that variational use of English, far from being "incorrect" or "illiterate", is increasingly being drawn upon creatively to mark a place identity. It also points to a shift in our conceptual thinking about language(s) and varieties from being perceived as static, "fixed", totalised and immobile to being thought of as dynamic, fragmented and mobile, with the focus upon mobile resources rather than immobile languages. At the same time, the teaching of literacy centres upon the teaching of linguistic norms of spelling and grammar as "fixed." There is a tension then, between creative expression of linguistic use often linked to place and those linked to standard English. This article explores those tensions and discusses the implications and possibilities for the teaching of English and literacy.
Wilf Malcolm Institute for Educational Research, University of Waikato. PB 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand. Tel: +64-7-858-5171; Fax: +64-7-838-4712; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: High Schools; Middle Schools
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Pennsylvania; South Africa; United Kingdom (England)
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A