Standard English Language and its Dialect Form
This paper is going to analyse changes that the dialect English language versus standard language. It will look into the orthographical differences in both cases with the specific examples.
The dialect form of certain words changes to- the RP pronunciation of ‘girl’ or ‘bird’ – so that ‘stairs’ sounds more like the Standard English pronunciation of ‘stirs’.
Child, line 4 – stairs standard:
A similar feature is seen here:
Adult, line 1 – here standard:
Here, the space in the mouth used to pronounce the monophthong differs from the Standard English use. In Standard English, where ‘stairs’ requires the mouth to be opened wide and the sound created mid-central (see diagram), the dialect speakers transfer the sound to the high-central
B Features of text
Both written samples demonstrate some very interesting features of both linguistic and non-linguistic context.
Both use cohesive ties with apparent confidence: the child’s text begins by introducing the topic of the disco, and her next reference to it is anaphoric:
‘I go there’
She is aware that repetition of ‘the disco’ is unnecessary. However, this cohesion becomes a little unclear in her next two sentences:
‘It is at roy smith’s up stiers. (‘it’ obviously referring to the disco again.) It is on north road.’
This second ‘it’ may be referring back to either the disco or to Roy Smith’s.
Her spoken sample contains the same lack of clarity:
(lines 3/4) ‘I go down there on Fridays (…) at a place called Roy Smith’s (.) it’s at Roy Smith’s up (…) stairs (…) it’s on North Road’.
In the adult’s written sample, cohesive ties are abundant and clearly referenced:
‘If I were to win a million pounds on the Lottery or something similar, I’d probably put it all in a ‘high-yield’ interest account’,
with further anaphora at the end of the text:
‘there are banks around which specialise in big sums like that’,
again meaning the million pounds.
Another example is:
‘I’d probably still get a mortgage and loans, but wouldn’t exactly have to worry about paying them off.’
He realises that the reader understands what ‘it all’ and ‘that’ refer to having stated ‘a million pounds’, and that the reader understands ‘them’ refers back to ‘a mortgage and loans’.
The adult’s spoken sample demonstrates the same sophistication, and the speech is linked together with cohesive ties, and reiteration where one string of cohesive ties has been broken by the introduction of another topic, e.g.:
‘a grand of that (.) every month (.) on (…) anything (…) you could spend it on a mortgage (pause) you get a mortgage over something like five years (…) on a decent house (pause) put two grand a month into it (…) a grand a month’ (reintroduction of ‘a grand’).
– adult, lines 23-27
Each text demonstrates an awareness of the reader’s knowledge of their chosen topic. The child writes about ‘the disco’, using the definite article, indicating an awareness that the reader knows she attends a disco every week: there is no need for her to elaborate on which disco or what a disco actually is, rather she details its location, entry fee and so on. Equally, the adult deems it unnecessary to explain cohesive items like ‘the Lottery’, ‘interest’ or ‘withdrawal’: all of these terms fall within the lexical field of finance and he knows that the reader understands this context.
Both provide much more explanation in their spoken samples and use discourse markers and solidarity markers that are often omitted in writing.
Discourse markers link the speech and are used as a ‘signposting’ mechanism, breaking the discourse up into chunks of meaning, for example:
‘Well (…) erm I go down there on Fridays’. (child, line 3)
This same information is much more definite in the written sample:
‘I go there on friday’s’
The adult uses moronomy where the child does not: he refers to
‘eight and a half grand’ (line 18),
taking for granted that the listener understands ‘grand’ means a thousand and that he is talking about pounds Sterling.
The child demonstrates moronomy to an extent where, having listed pop music groups, says:
‘and all that’ (lines 18/19),
to indicate that that is the genre of music played at the disco.
Solidarity markers add confidence to the speaker’s words and validate what they are saying. Examples include:
• questions: ‘couldn’t you?’ (adult, line 16)
• loose comparisons, particularly the word ‘like’, found frequently: ‘it’s (.) like a sweetie bar’ (child, line 10); ‘there like a pair of’ (child, line 31)
• general fillers and reinforcers: ‘Well (.) obviously’ (adult, line 21); ‘you know’ (adult, line 43); ‘or something’ (adult, line 26).
Interestingly, while both of the child’s samples contain few solidarity markers, the adult’s samples contain more than expected: in the written sample there is ‘probably’ and ‘I think’, and (as already illustrated) there are several throughout his spoken sample. This may be an indication of him attempting to bring his speech and writing closer to Standard English, or closer to a perception of ‘correctness’. This will be further analysed in section D b).
There is little evidence of metaphor in either of the spoken or written samples. I would suggest a number of reasons for that: the child’s language has developed beyond ‘simple’ forms of metaphor like overextension (e.g. pointing to a horse and saying “doggy”) and, with her chosen topic, perhaps felt that there was no opportunity to use metaphor. Equally, while perhaps the adult may have had the opportunity or semantic sophistication to use a metaphor (or at least an analogy) in explaining what to do with £1m, he evidently chose to keep the explanation more factual than imaginative.
C Phonetics and spelling
In the Darlington dialect, there are particular phonetics that dominate the general sounds of the speakers’ speech, for example the schwa and the deep being used for many monophthong vowel sounds:
Child, line 3 – go
line 11 – stuff
line 18 – Boyzone
Adult, line 3 – radio
line 22 – terribly
line 37 – account
The monophthongs are also frequently opened and sustained, as can be seen in words like:
Child, line 1 – disco
line 18 – All
Adult, line 19 – really
line 22 – bored
Conversely, stops (p, b, t, d, k and g) are often omitted in glottal stops, as is a common feature of the dialect, resulting in examples such as:
Adult, line 15 – got
line 25 – decent
line 26 – gets
Child, line 28 – Darlington
These omissions make some words very staccato and someone unfamiliar with the dialect would probably find the lack of some consonants in words difficult to decipher!
The phonetics of a word spoken in the Darlington dialect differ according to its context, usually the word following it: if the first letter of a subsequent word is a vowel, then the last letter of the preceding word is normally pronounced. If the first letter of a subsequent word is a consonant, often the preceding word’s final letter is dropped.
Child, line 3 – ‘at a place called Roy Smith’s (.) it’s at Roy Smith’s’
The first ‘at’ is pronounced, while the second drops the final ‘t’ like so:
The same is true of fricative ‘h’, when it begins a word like ‘he’. This varies – on some occasions, it forces the preceding word’s final consonant to be excluded and sometimes the opposite is true:
Adult, line 1 – ‘’Cause he’
line 5 – ‘He owns’
line 9 – ‘it he’
• In line 1, the ‘h’ is dropped in favour of the ‘s’ from ‘’Cause’;
• in line 5, the ‘h’ has nothing preceding it and is pronounced; and
• in line 9, the final ‘t’ of ‘it’ is dropped in favour of pronouncing the ‘h’.
Generally, the dialect does not overlap with the spelling in each subject’s written sample. The adult’s text contains no spelling mistakes and no relations to his pronunciation of words like ‘out’, where in speech he have a glottal stop, or ‘year’, where he could represent his accent and spell it ‘yur’.
In the child’s written sample, there is an indication of confusion between phonics ‘ee’ and ‘ea’, as she mis-spells ‘meet’ and writes instead ‘meat’. As discussed in section A, her reasons behind mis-spelling ‘stairs’ as ‘stiers’ are debatable as to whether she has spelt it according to her own pronunciation, or whether it is another confusion between two phonics that seem similar to her. She also mis-spells the name Chris, omitting the ‘h’ and writing ‘cris’, perhaps unaware that the ‘Ch’ – normally pronounced as the affricate- is pronounced as a hard ‘c’ in this case.
D a) Child language acquisition
According to Kroll (1981), the child – aged 7.10 – falls into the age bracket of the second stage of learning to write, the Consolidation Phase:
• able to write without a model to copy from;
• able to transcribe.
In just over a year, the child will enter the age bracket for the Differentiation Phase:
• able to separate the functions of speech and writing;
• beginning to develop a personal writing style.
From simply glancing at the child’s written sample, which is laid out in the form of a transcript, it is evident that she is calling on her ability to transcribe words spoken, and has decided that a transcription is the most appropriate method of writing about what she can remember from our ‘interview’. She has not used a transcription model to write this and understand that where quoting what someone else has said within her own moment of speech, she does not need to include their words as though they had been present, thus:
‘cris say two please’ Her sentences are kept brief, indicating a lack of ability to form a complex sentence. Repetition over three consecutive sentences of the introduction ‘It is’ suggests that she uses this phrase as a sort of peg upon which she can easily hang the rest of the sentence: ‘It is’ eliminates the necessity for co-ordinating conjunctions, for example a more advanced writer may have said:
‘It is on North Road and is £1.80 to get in’
She does, however, demonstrate a simple ability with co-ordinating conjunctions in the following sentences:
‘two go in and give it to a lady’
‘I meat (meet) my friend and talk to them’
‘Then we go to the bar and get a drink’
She is able to use this simple conjunction, which can only link two clauses of equal value, but gives no indication of knowing how to use any other.
In her speech, she frequently says ‘and’, sometimes coupling it with ‘then’ showing a method of making her spoken description progress chronologically:
‘and then (…) we dance to a few songs’ (lines 11/12)
‘and (…) then (…) we just (.) go around’ (line 12)
While generally speech unfolds in time, while writing unfolds in space, she has selected the dimension of time as a structure around which to base both media – perhaps this is because she produced the written sample after the ‘interview’.
There are some grammatical errors in the child’s written sample that do not occur in her speech, namely identifying the necessity of verb agreement:
‘I meat (meet) my friend and talk to them’ (written)
‘I meet my friends (.) Chris (…) and Kelly and Alice’ (spoken, lines 6/7)
It seems she has unconsciously acquired this element of language knowledge, but has not yet learned to represent it in a written medium. The same lack of agreement can be seen where she writes:
‘cris say to please’ (instead of ‘says’)
From this example, it is evident that the child has not fully realised the third stage of learning to write insofar as clearly differentiating between speech and narrative: there are no speech marks. Where she indicates that someone is speaking with the word ‘say’, the omission of appropriate punctuation suggests that she is not fully aware of how to differentiate between the two. However, this may simply be and indication of poor punctuation skills, as she often fails to include full stops or capitalisation for ending one sentence and beginning another one:
‘It is £1.80 to get in this boy called cris say two please’
and ending words ‘amy’, ‘disco’ and ‘dirnks’ (drinks) are not punctuated. She does not use commas at all.
D. b) Metalinguistic awareness
There is evidence of metalinguistic development in the child’s text and speech: in her written sample she began by writing:
‘this boy say’
She crossed out ‘say’ and added some extra information:
so that the corrected sentence reads:
‘this boy called cris say’
The child succeeds in being specific, indicating an awareness that the reader does not share the same background knowledge as her. The pause after she says:
‘I meet my friends’ (line 6)
before introducing their names further illustrates this metalinguistic awareness: she reminds herself that the interviewer does not have the same knowledge of the world as she does, and does not know who her friends are.
The most striking difference between both subjects’ spoken and written samples is the differing use of language. The spoken samples contain voiced and unvoiced pauses, like:
‘Well (…) erm’ (child, line 3)
‘Mmm (…)’ (child, line 18)
‘(.) and stuff (.)’ (adult, lines 27/28)
There is repetition – excluding a list-type format, as can be found in the adult’s spoken sample, lines 23-29 – where the subject is struggling for something to say or thinking about how to phrase something, or what they are going to say next:
‘get something like eight (.) eight and a half grand’ (adult, lines 17/18)
‘it’s (.) it’s one pound eighty’ (child, line 4)
‘for th- (pause) for the songs’ (child, line 21)
When required to transfer their spoken topic into writing, however, both subjects demonstrate an awareness of the necessity to present the information in a way specific to the written medium. As mentioned earlier in this essay, the child writer has presented the topic of speaking about a disco in a transcript form, deeming this to be the most appropriate presentation because she has consciously linked the interview with her written piece.
The child’s written sample, however, reads somewhat stiffly with repetitive ‘and’ linking almost every sentence together:
‘this boy called cris say two please & two go in and give it to a lady’
‘I meat my friend and talk to them. Then we go to the bar and get a dirnk’
Because the child is still learning how to write and without a model, she does not yet have the ability to select an appropriate tone for her intended audience.
Both writers use Standard English in their written samples. Where pronunciation of different words can be seen in the IPA versions of words, neither subject represents their accent or dialect in writing. This is basic metalinguistic awareness: both have learned to write in Standard English because of its wide accessibility. Discourse markers and pauses are almost entirely omitted. Neither use phrases particular to their dialect, suggesting an awareness of the more formal nature of writing, for example in the adult’s samples:
‘you get a million pounds’ (line 16) ‘If I were to win a million pounds’
A similar element is present in the child’s samples in the form of spoken contraction, but more formally fully written:
‘it’s at Roy Smith’s up (…) stairs (…) it’s on North Road’ (line 4) ‘It is at roy smiths up stiers. It is on north road.’
Despite the noticeably more formal element both writers use in comparison to their speech, the adult indicates a more complex awareness of audience: the written sample is not over formalised because of the inclusion of perceivably subjective words and contractions such as:
‘I could easily live’
‘wouldn’t exactly have to worry’
There is no overly complex accounting or financial jargon, showing that he knows that the reader does or may not have a thorough understanding of the field.
The child demonstrates a notion of written ‘correctness’: where the adult de-formalises numbers by writing them as ‘10%’, ‘£100,000’ and ‘30’, the child started by writing ‘2’ and corrected her sentence to:
‘this boy called cris say two please’.
Her spoken sample demonstrates the same metalinguistic development in terms of a notion of ‘correctness’:
‘they do them (.) those songs’ (line 20)
Evidently, both writers are consciously aware o the differences between discourse and writing, and of the required ‘standards’ that exist when writing but not when speaking. (To an extent: refer to point about them/those, child’s transcript, line 20.) By comparing the spoken and written samples of both, it is clear to see where the adult’s metalinguistic awareness is further developed in terms of confidence with the topic (or perhaps with the interviewer and the presence of a microphone?) – the adult has fewer pauses; with structure of writing – the child relied on a strict transcript model where the adult simply sat and typed a paragraph; and in selecting a tone and lexical field suitable to the intended audience.
Suggested implications for teaching
1. It is important for teachers to differentiate between dialect and the misconception of ‘substandard’. Cultural diversity is important within the UK and there is a general consensus that teachers should not correct their students’ speech, for example pronunciation different to their own – glottal stops are most notoriously corrected by adults!
2. Children take time to develop a sophisticated and appropriate writing style, and progress through at least three stages: bla bla and bla. Teachers should be aware of the approximate age brackets for these stages as well as what the stages consist of in terms of learning and capacity.
3. Until children have naturally progressed into their next stage of learning how to write, teachers should carefully assess – in light of the stage, age bracket and individual ability of the child – to what extent they should correct their written work. To aid learning and promote progression, suggestions and alternatives may be a better approach than straight correction.
4. Promote clarity and variation in communication to move toward a sophisticated communicative ability; raise awareness or empathy or others’ knowledge of the world and their own chosen topics of discourse and writing.