02/01/07 - non-standard english

In today's encore excerpt - William Labov, in his groundbreaking 1970 article 'The Logic of Nonstandard English', comments on both the language of scholarly journals and 'middle class' language, as compared to 'working class' language:

"In high school and college, middle-class children spontaneously complicate their syntax to the point that instructors despair of getting them to make their language simpler and clearer. In every learned journal, one can find examples of jargon and empty elaboration, as well as complaints about it. ... Isn't it ... turgid, redundant, bombastic and empty? Is it not simply an elaborated style rather than a superior code or system?

"Our work in the speech community makes it painfully obvious that, in many ways, working-class speakers are more effective narrators, reasoners and debaters than many middle-class speakers, who temporize, qualify and lose their argument in a mass of irrelevant detail. Many academic writers try to rid themselves of that part of middle-class style, that is, empty pretension, and keep that part that is needed for precision. But the average middle-class speaker that we encounter makes no such effort; he is enmeshed in verbiage, the victim of sociolinguistic factors beyond his control.

"I will not attempt to support this argument here with systematic quantitative evidence, although it is possible to develop measures which show how far middle-class speakers can wander from the point. ..."


William Labov


'The Logic of Nonstandard English'


Varieties of Present-Day English R.W.Bailey and J.L. Robinson Eds.




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