National Writing Project

How the Linguistic Repertoire of Students Can Color Teacher Perceptions

Date: November 2010

Summary: In his research, scholar Samy Alim explores the language of high school students and how it affects their teachers' perceptions of them.


Insecurity with Language Variety

At the UCLA Writing Project's conference "With Different Eyes 2009: What's Language Got to Do With It?" H. Samy Alim , associate professor in the Social Sciences, Policy, and Educational Practice (SSPEP) program faculty in educational linguistics at Stanford, presented his study on black language in white public space.

Working for two years with black and Latino high school students from a gentrifying, but still marginalized community in the San Francisco Bay Area, Alim deconstructed the shame and insecurity a white and a Latina student feel about their language variety, particularly in academic settings.

He posited that teachers with a sociolinguistic awareness can do much to support students who feel their language variety has to be discarded in favor of Standard English. For more, watch the video below.


Teacher Perceptions and Language Variety

"Linguistic deficit models are part of the prevalent language ideologies at many high schools," said Alim, whose research showed that teachers who lack sociolinguistic understanding of regional and ethnic varieties may perceive their own students' speech as "abrasive" and "unsophisticated."

His case study showed a well-meaning teacher had already decided that students who used vernacular English in oral presentations would "never experience the nuances" of Standard English. He concluded by emphasizing the need for teachers to detach from the hegemonic assumptions that come with such models. For more, watch the video below.


Social Encoding of Speech Varieties

Black students not only react differently depending on their speaker's race, gender, and knowledge of hip hop culture, they adjust their speech accordingly, said Alim, who described a social encoding of speech varieties that shows black students' sensitivity to these nuances through a number of stylistic markers.

Since "we are all submersed in language ideologies," Alim suggested organizing school conversations where teachers are free to examine the language ideologies in existence, and the lenses used to evaluate speech in the classroom. For more, watch the video below.

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