Reinforcing Linguistic Diversity

GVSU cross-program initiative recognizes, validates different English dialects

By Megan Webster | 1/15/17 7:46pm

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GVL/Kevin Sielaff - PHOTO ILLUSTRATION - Grand Valley State senior Renée Cameron revises a set of class notes on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017.

by Kevin Sielaff / Grand Valley Lanthorn

There is a mission taking place at Grand Valley State University to welcome linguistic diversity. Faculty and staff are making it their goal to promote equality and respect for all dialects of the English language while acknowledging the skill of code-switching among these different dialects.

The goal of this initiative is for GVSU to follow in the paths of scholarship statements and research that has been conducted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL).

“We want to educate faculty and students about the fact that students are code-switching between academic standard English and Spanish or African-American language,” said Lindsay Ellis, director of the supplemental writing skills program in the English department at GVSU. “We want students and faculty to recognize this as a great skill.”

Research states that every dialect of English is a rule-governed dialect, whether it be standard academic English, African-American English or any other English dialect. This is not a new or radical concept. The original statements from the NCTE were published in 1974 and state that students have a right to their own language and dialect, expressing their community, family and personal identity.

Ellis said opening a conversation about dismissing a hierarchy between dialects allows an open conversation into the policy statements of our SWS programs here at GVSU.

“Academic written English is one dialect of English, African-American English is one dialect of English. There should not be a hierarchy between them," she said. "This is a foundational principal that we teach in English linguistic classes. We want to get that word out across the wider community.”

In order to act upon this fundamental principle, representatives from the English department, the anthropology department, the Division of Inclusion and Equity and the Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors are coming together to develop a plan and training to support diversity and inclusion, values reflected in GVSU’s latest strategic plan.

The Writing Center consultants will be required to attend training sessions on linguistic diversity. In this training, they will work with the Division of Inclusion and Equity, along with other representatives from other disciplines, in order to ensure the consultants are equipped to work with different dialects of English. This specialized training will extend beyond the writing center and will be offered in the speech lab, the research consultant program and the data inquiry lab.

“The Writing Center is an important point of contact for all students and it is essential that everyone feel welcome,” said Patrick Johnson, director of the Writing Center, via email. “Promoting linguistic diversity means (training) our staff to recognize the equality of non-standard language varieties.”

If students want to learn more about the linguistic diversity initiative, they can attend a Teach-In session taking place during Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week. There will be two Teach-In sessions pertaining to linguistic diversity Thursday, Jan. 19. The first will be from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. in the Kirkhof Center Room 2259, and the second session will be from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. in the DeVos Center Room 107C.

Students can also find more information in the writing center’s policy statement at www.gvsu.edu/wc/ or in the policy statements of the NCTE and AAAL. 

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