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Let's celebrate our linguistic heritage

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 20, 2013

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WE would like to reply to your article by Ian Henery on Why do Black Country people allow others to mock their dialect in The Bugle (December 5 edition)?

Is Ian right? Teaching pupils to become confident readers and writers of standard English is the responsibility of every teacher, and especially so at primary school where foundations are laid for subsequent educational success or failure.

Is learning to read and write, though, incompatible with speaking Black Country dialect? Not necessarily.

Becoming confident writers and readers of standard English is important both educationally and socially.

Of course, primary schools are right to want to teach and to improve their pupils' literacy. However, this does not mean that people have to become slaves to language or completely alter or deny the ways that they speak at home and in the community.

It's more a question of understanding that there are different – not 'wrong' – ways of communicating with one another, and that language can be used differently in different contexts and situations for different purposes.

Banning the use of Black Country words and phrases in the classroom is likely to send a message to the pupils that the ways in which they, their parents, family and friends speak is somehow 'wrong.'

The Black Country accent and dialect has a bad enough press already without its own communities adding to it.

Learning to read and to write can be taught in ways that acknowledge, rather than ignore or deny, the Black Country accent and dialect. It is not 'wrong' to speak Black Country.

Yes, you may say 'cor, and 'day' at home or in the playground, but when it comes to learning to read and to write in the classroom, we learn first to write 'c-an-n-o-t,' 'and ' I d-o n-o-t' or 'I d-o-n-'-t.'

Acknowledging this difference sends home a very different message than the denial or shame implied by a ban.

As the poll undertaken by The Express and Star last year showed the Black Country accent and dialect is an important part of the area's heritage and sense of identity as much as, if not more so, than its social history, folk songs and traditions. Its use is also alive not only in everyday conversation, but in drama, poetry, prose and song and pieces published in this paper.

At the same time, public perceptions of the Black Country accent and dialect remain largely negative for reasons that have nothing to do with language and everything to do with prejudice.

There are laws against discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, age, gender and sexuality, yet it's still OK somehow to discriminate against people on the basis of their accent and dialect.

We can do many things to change this public perception and discrimination.

One way is to embrace and celebrate its use by, example and once pupils have learnt to read and to write at key stage 1, writing dialect poetry as part of the curriculum for English at key stage 2. Where 'cor' and 'day' are celebrated, not denied.

The national curriculum for English has included recognition and study of regional variations of English ever since it was first introduced 25 years ago and continues to do so.

Many regions in the UK celebrate their linguistic heritage in different ways, why not the Black Country?

Dr Urszula Clark, Dr Brian Dakin,

West Midlands English: Speech and Society

project, Aston University.

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