The Daily Telegraph

Don’t penalise children for regional dialects, says expert

- By Joe Pinkstone Science correspond­ent

CHILDREN who speak with regional dialects should not be penalised for using incorrect grammar, a linguistic­s expert has said.

Instead, Willem Hollmann, Professor of Linguistic­s at Lancaster University, believes the national curriculum should be updated to embrace local variations in speech.

For example, some children, particular­ly in the North of England, are raised saying “I were” instead of “I was”, and while this does not align with the definition of standard English, it should not be considered incorrect, he said.

Prof Hollmann said the national curriculum and examinatio­ns are based around received pronunciat­ion, also known as “RP” or the Queen’s English, which is not spoken by the majority of the UK.

“The correspond­ences children learn in school between letters and pronunciat­ions are done in RP, so implicitly there is a danger that children who don’t speak RP, which is a majority, might struggle and may feel marginalis­ed,” he said. “The standard is not necessaril­y correct. It puts speakers of non-standard English at a bit of a disadvanta­ge as it’s harder for them to select the right answer as the right answer isn’t right to begin with, it’s just the most socially prestigiou­s.”

Writing for the Chair of the Committee for Linguistic­s in Education website, Prof Hollmann said: “[RP] is just one accent among many. In order to relate the national curriculum effectivel­y to the diversity in their classrooms, teachers need to take account of how their pupils speak.

“It would be wrong to say there is no attention in the national curriculum to regional and social variation but there could certainly be more.

“Equating standard English with correct English, some would argue, needs to go. It’s one thing to call it standard, but to call it correct, that is not correct.”

Prof Hollmann, who is Dutch, added: “It’s nice to live here and hear so much variation, it’s a rich tapestry of different pronunciat­ions and grammar constructi­on that we find around us.

“That amount of variation in the UK, you don’t find and in many other countries, and in my mind, that is something to be protected.”

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