Non-Standard and Minority Varieties as Community Languages in the UK: Towards a New Strategy for Language Maintenance

Matras, Y. and Karatsareas, P. 2020. Non-Standard and Minority Varieties as Community Languages in the UK: Towards a New Strategy for Language Maintenance .

TitleNon-Standard and Minority Varieties as Community Languages in the UK: Towards a New Strategy for Language Maintenance
AuthorsMatras, Y. and Karatsareas, P.
TypeDiscussion paper
Abstract

Supplementary schools (also referred to as complementary or Saturday schools) play a key role in teaching community heritage languages. In this way they contribute to strengthening awareness of cultural identity and confidence among pupils of migrant and minority backgrounds. The diaspora setting poses a number of challenges: parents and pupils expect supplementary schools to provide instruction in formal aspects of the heritage languages (reading and writing, and ‘correct’ grammar), but also to help develop competence in using the language in everyday settings, not least in order to enable intergenerational communication. Where the formal language differs from non-standard speech varieties (such as regional dialects), gaps may emerge between expectations and delivery. Most schools do not equip teachers to address such issues because the traditional curricula (including textbooks and teacher training packages that are often imported from the origin countries) fail to take them into consideration.

The paper draws on recent research by specialist sociolinguists working in various UK settings and on a discussion among researchers and practitioners that was hosted by the University of Westminster in April 2019, co-organised by the Multilingual Manchester research unit at the University of Manchester as part of the Multilingual Communities strand of the AHRC Open World Research Initiative consortium ‘Cross- Language Dynamics: Re-shaping Communities.’

Research has shown that teachers, parents and pupils attribute importance to the teaching of standard languages, not least as a way of gaining additional formal qualifications and increasing prospects of university admission and employment. However, pupils also show an interest in everyday speech varieties and often challenge the prevailing language ideologies that fail to recognise their importance in informal communication. Teachers tend to be aware of this tension but lack the training and resources to address it in the classroom.

The workshop findings suggest that failure to take non-standard speech varieties into consideration can discourage pupils from attending supplementary schools and so it also risks having an adverse effect on the transmission of standard heritage languages. Pupils’ motivation can be boosted if they are offered more tools and opportunities to communicate in everyday speech varieties. To that end, non-standard varieties must be valorised and teachers should be equipped with the skills to address language variation and pupils’ multilingual repertoires and to promote them as valuable communicative resources.

The paper recommends that supplementary schools should explore ways to take into account pupils’ multilingualism and use of non-standard varieties. Curricula should be adjusted to recognise non- standard varieties as valuable resources while continuing to teach the formal (standard) varieties. Teacher training modules should be designed that take pupils’ multilingual repertoires into account and equip teachers to understand and address sociolinguistic issues such as structural variation, multilingualism and language ideologies.

The paper also recommends public engagement to address the inequality that underpins the use of the terms ‘community’ versus ‘modern languages’, and calls for collaboration between mainstream (statutory) schools and supplementary schools when it comes to celebrating diversity in their pupils’ backgrounds. Academics should play a greater role in providing advice, support and training to practitioners. They should work with practitioners and stakeholders to raise public awareness of the contribution that supplementary schools make and to develop policies and pedagogical approaches to support them.

Keywordscommunity languages
language maintenance
non-standard varieties
multilingualism
Year2020
Publication dates
Published17 Mar 2020
File
File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)
Web address (URL)http://mlm.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Non-Standard-and-Minority-Varieties-as-Community-Languages-in-the-UK-Position-Paper.pdf

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