- IntroductionDeveloping a Dialogue about Language and Politics
The reviews in this issue were written by composition graduate students at the University of New Hampshire as part of a spring 2014 seminar focused on the politics of language in composition studies and the 1974 resolution by the Conference on College Composition and Communication titled Students’ Rights to Their Own Language (SRTOL). As part of the seminar, students read and reviewed current books that considered various language debates in literacy and writing studies. The book reviews shared here consider various ways that language use, globalization, and issues of access continue to fuel our work as instructors. In the following pages, we consider writing centers, students’ experiences across disciplines, international students’ perspectives, women writers from Appalachia, and the role of vernacular speech in written texts. In doing so, we hope to provide readers with a window into some of the current conversations on language and literacy, both in and out of the classroom.
In the spring of 2014 we participated in a seminar, led by Christina Ortmeier-Hooper, where we considered how language and, more specifically, the politics of language influenced our classrooms, our pedagogical approaches, and our students. Our group included English as a second language teachers, creative writing teachers, teachers who had worked with immigrant students at local community colleges, and teachers who had taught in international settings, including China and Korea. All seminar participants taught in the University of New Hampshire’s first-year writing program, and many were staff members of the university’s Connors Writing Center. [End Page 383]
The seminar offered us an opportunity to explore how the field of composition, and English studies more broadly, has engaged with issues of diversity, multiculturalism, and critical pedagogies. As first-year writing instructors, we knew that it was difficult to read, write, or teach in our disciplines without considering language, identity, and culture — our own and those of our students. The diversity of our classrooms and conversations about language and dialects in teaching writing also extend across gender and socioeconomic class. Discussions on these issues are pertinent and vital to the field. We also acknowledged that these were not new discussions but ongoing ones that reflected in part the history of our discipline. The 1974 SRTOL resolution reads, in part:
We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language — the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.(19)
The resolution aimed to encourage teachers to affirm experiences and language backgrounds of their students with particular regard to students’ dialects and sociolinguistic repertoire, providing them with some responses to the questions of what to “do about the language habits, of students who come from a wide variety of social, economic, and cultural backgrounds” (20). In the foreword to Students’ Right to Their Own Language: A Critical Sourcebook, Geneva Smitherman comments: “For many of us, the assertion of student language rights was inextricable from our national and international quest for social justice” (2015: v).
In 2014, the SRTOL resolution remains relevant as we witness ongoing demographic shifts and growing numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse students. Yet, since the issuance of the position statement (a sixty-five-page document with an extended discussion of linguistics and language variety, as well as an annotated bibliography), so much of its promise remains unfulfilled as politics, educational policies, and ideas about language “norms” continue to complicate and limit opportunities for many students. [End Page 384] Forty years after the...