Date: Sat, 1 Feb 1997 13:51:48 +0900
From: Daniel Long dlong[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]JOHO.OSAKA-SHOIN.AC.JP
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
Higashi-Osaka-shi, Osaka Japan 577
tel and fax +81-6-729-1831
email dlong[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]joho.osaka-shoin.ac.jp