Talking fallacies

21st June 1996 at 01:00
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 as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today