Date: Sat, 1 Feb 1997 13:51:48 +0900


Subject: BEV-speaking children and reading

Beverly Flanigan wrote:

On a related topic: Someone on another list (CHILDES) was surprised and

dismayed to hear Labov say (on NPR) that BEV-speaking children might

have more difficulty than SAE speakers in learning to read and write.

I can see how this would be disturbing to non-linguists, but I think we,

as professional lingallers, should consider the following.

(a) IF Labov made such a statement (and the contents of the related

paper on his website indicate that the focus of his remarks may have

been misinterpreted), he was (we would assume, knowing his work) basing

his statements on years of empirical work. Obviously, any of us (placed

in that kind of situation) would need to careful about what we said, but

how it might be (mis)interpreted.

(b) That being said, I only think it perfectly logical (linguistically)

that the differences in a child's native dialect and the spoken standard

being used to explain the writing system can cause problems in learning

to read and write. I have a very vivid and specific memory of being

taught to write by the phonics methods in the first grade (West

Tennessee, 1969-70). My teacher showed a picture of a woman with a big

hoop skirt behind her. The ribbon on the front of the dress made a "w"

and the skirt in back an "h". Our teacher explained that this was the

sound that words like "which" started with. Not to be confused with

words like "witch". Well, maybe she understood and produced these

sounds distinctively, but I was LOST; I didn't make the distinction when

I spoke, and I certainly couldn't "hear" the distinction she was trying

to describe. Of course, there are lots of spelling pecularities, silent

letters, etc. in English spelling, but that's precisely the point.

These were explained to us as "exceptions"; the "wh" was (whuz?) not.

It seems that the more of these differences there were between the

standard language and the native dialect of the child, the harder

learning the spelling rules would be.

Danny Long (who as a result of this trama still cain't spell werth a


(Dr.) Daniel Long, Associate Professor

Japanese Language Research Center

Osaka Shoin Women's College

4-2-26 Hishiyanishi

Higashi-Osaka-shi, Osaka Japan 577

tel and fax +81-6-729-1831

email dlong[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]