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Black Country dialect achives socially acceptable behaviour

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 23, 2014

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TO say that "writing dialect leads to silly spellings" is to miss the point (Bugle letter, January 9 edition).

There is a world of difference between mis spelling words according to the Oxford English Dictionary and grammars of English and deliberately disrupting spelling conventions for a particular effect. I find the spelling of 'there' when it should be 'their' and the use of the 'greengrocer apostrophe' (potatoe's for potatoes) in my students' academic essays as irritating as anyone else, and mark them as such.

People who view dialect writing as 'silly spellings' often assume that a lack of respect for the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation shows disrespect for moral and social behaviour more generally.

Also, linguists once thought that as more people became literate in English, the variation found in regional dialects of English would die out, and we would all speak and write in the same way. The research undertaken at Aston University shows that this prediction has not come true. What has happened instead, is that as we have become more literate as a population, people have begun to draw deliberately upon dialect features to represent social identity linked to a place, such as that of the Black Country. The intended circulation of writing in dialect is usually intended for readers living in a certain area, and 'silly spellings' are a way of showing membership of a local community. The link that used to be seen between 'silly spelling' and immoral and unsociable behaviour has also been cut. For example, take the recent edition of the newsletter published by Sandwell Police and distributed around local shopping centres. The newsletter heading is: 'Bostin' Police Newsletter – Tipton. Tippun Green. Special Black Country Edition. What Wim Doin.

The newsletter deliberately draws upon features of Black Country dialect to catch the attention of the Sandwell public and, far from advocating socially disrespectful behaviour, is drawing upon dialect as a way of achieving the opposite: socially responsible behaviour.

Ursula Clark,

u.clark@aston.ac.uk

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