Linguistics seminar: Shana Poplack - Learning without a teacher : The competing roles of community and school in vernacular persistence and spread

Seminar/Forum

Linguistics seminar: Shana Poplack - Learning without a teacher : The competing roles of community and school in vernacular persistence and spread

Prof. Shana Poplack (University of Ottawa)

Title: Learning without a teacher : The competing roles of community and school in vernacular persistence and spread

Abstract: The prime mandate of the educational enterprise is to curb, if not reverse, community-based linguistic variation and change. Yet spoken vernaculars, even of the highly educated, are replete with non-standard forms. In Quebec French, many are involved in vigorous change in progress, so that for urban youth today, stigmatized variants are basically the norm in various areas of the grammar. Why have these rogue forms persisted in the face of centuries of prescriptive stigma? And why have their unacknowledged contexts of use spread to the detriment of those prescribed in grammars? The tendency is to blame the official conduits of normative prescription – teachers and schools. But this underestimates the power of the speech community to propagate and enforce vernacular norms. In this talk I explore these issues by assessing the competing roles of community and school in abetting language change and maintaining the standard. Illustrating with five morphosyntactic variables which differ in terms of stigma, salience, prescriptive transparency and social meaning, I compare actual usage of language-arts teachers and high school students in school and out, as well as with the community norm on the one hand, and the prescribed norm on the other. Results show that teachers sometimes hew to prescriptive norms, but students always align themselves with the community, regardless of variable, variant, teacher model, or degree of prescriptive stigma. These findings confirm the primacy of the peer group in setting and reinforcing linguistic norms, and raise questions about the efficacy of the school in transmitting the standard.

Presenter

  • Professor Shana Poplack
    Professor Shana Poplack, University of Ottawa