Language plea by Sacred Heart Primary School: Have they undervalued the concept of context?
Child 1: “Gizit ere”
Child 2: “What?”
Child 1: “Yer know what. Ma shert! Gizit ere or am gonna be late fer school.”
Mother: “What’s all the shoutin’ about down there?”
Child 1 & 2: “Nowt.”
The transcript above represents two children having a minor argument before school. We can immediately see that the children have used their local Teeside accent and dialect. Of course, we can all understand the language used by the children in this context. But do we judge them and assume they are receiving a poor education simply because their pronunciation is different to the version that the Queen, politicians and national newsreaders use? Can we assume they are receiving a poor education from the fact that both children responded to their mother with “nowt” as opposed to “nothing?”
I have used Teeside pronunciation and language choices here as an example but I could have chosen any local accent and their variety of language (dialect). Language choices vary from area to area, as do the accents and that is what makes language beautiful. It would be boring if everybody spoke in exactly the same way and the fact that one’s identity can be revealed simply by the way they speak is a good thing in the eyes of many.
Maybe not according to Mrs Walker who is the Headteacher of Sacred Heart Primary School in Middlesbrough. As some may or may not be aware, it emerged recently that Mrs Walker had sent a letter home to the parents of the children in her school, which encouraged parents to enforce a standardized version of pronunciation and grammar on their children. She included a list of some “incorrect” phrases and pronunciation forms that she wanted the children to avoid using in future and appealed to the parents to help her ‘correct’ their language to ensure they are not disadvantaged later on in life.
In other words, Mrs Walker believes that the children will have better career and social prospects if they avoid using the following Teeside phrases:
- I done that. (I have done that or I did that.)
- I seen that. (I have seen that or I saw that.)
- Yous (Intended as a plural form of ‘you.’)
- Gizit ere. (Please give me it.)
- I dunno. (I don't know.)
- It's nowt. (It's nothing.)
- He was sat there. (He was sitting there.)
She also included some pronunciation ‘problems:’
- “Letta” & “butta” (Letter & butter.)
- “Werk” & “shert” (I will wear my shirt for work.)
- "School finishes at free fifteen" ("School finishes at three fifteen")