Skip to main content

Talking fallacies

Somebody should point out forcefully to Sue Palmer (TES, June 7) that her often sensible curriculum suggestions are compromised by being based on a fundamental fallacy. It is simply not true that all dialects are "equal", or of equal value for a wide range of functions, not even that they are "linguistically equal" - whatever that may mean.

In any language, the dialect which becomes the standard undergoes a process of elaboration of grammar and vocabulary which enables its users to fulfil a full range of functions not available to the speakers of non-standard dialects.

In England this process began in the early 15th century, and the consequent 550 years of elaboration have given a qualitative edge to standard English which other dialects do not possess. Nor is it true (as is often claimed) that speakers of non-standard dialect can simply adapt spontaneously to standard: there are often crucial practical obstacles to this.

It's high time educationists stopped repeating this old fallacy, and took note of those linguists who have called for a more accurate formulation of the issues surrounding dialect differences.

Professor John Honey 13 Greenlands Red Cross Lane Cambridge

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you