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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The weans are all right

The Guardian has a slightly daft story today about a primary school in Halesowen that has banned Black Country dialect from its precincts in the interest of getting the kids to express themselves in "Standard English". The usual gloom is accompanied by  laments for the loss of  linguistic diversity and connection with  more authentic modes of expression.

What puzzles me a bit is the either/or way in which this kind of argument is often put. It's perfectly possible for children and adults to adapt the way they speak to the social circumstances they find themselves in. And in any case most British dialects are not that different from Standard English so what is the great problem?

Growing up in the Midlands with immigrant Scottish parents, I spoke  differently at home from  how I did in the playground, which was different again from the way  I spoke in the classroom. Admittedly outside of the confines of the family the first was of little  practical  use, though later on it meant I had little difficulty  understanding  Gregor Fisher's Rab C. Nesbitt surely one of the finest pieces of absurdist comedy ever produced by the BBC.

In other countries, for instance Germany, regional dialect happily coexists with the standardized version of the language. Children speak Hochdeutsch in school and dialect in the street or home (if they choose). Some of the dialects are not as mutually intelligible as almost all British dialects are but nobody seems to get excited about that. And the appetite for culture in dialect seems to be enormous. Look at the size of the audience standing in the rain to watch Brings singing in Kölsch.

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