‘To Know Is to Love?': Language Awareness and Language Attitudes in a Barbadian Classroom

‘To Know Is to Love?': Language Awareness and Language Attitudes in a Barbadian Classroom

Chloe Walker (The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4075-6.ch004
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This chapter explores the relationship(s) between language awareness and language attitudes among second year students at High School X, a prestigious secondary school in Barbados. The analysis of data from a mixed-methods case study reveals findings which suggest that students exhibit moderate levels of language awareness, low levels of ‘active' language awareness, and high levels of ‘passive' language awareness. Further, the students hold ambivalent feelings toward Bajan dialect, positive feelings toward Standard English unanimously, and view Standard English as superior to Bajan. Based on these findings, the chapter considers the most effective place(s) for use of non-standard varieties in Barbadian classrooms, particularly stressing their potential to improve students' language awareness in the social and power domains. The chapter also supports an integrative approach to the teaching of Standard English based on the socio-linguistic complexities of the Barbadian context.
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Language is one of the most important components of a country’s social and political economy. At present, proficiency in written Standard English remains a significant concern for most countries in the Caribbean region. The Caribbean has often reported poor results in the English components at both the secondary schools’ entrance and exit levels (Craig, 1999, p.4). Craig (1999) cites CSEC English A statistics from the CXC Annual Reports on Administration of the Examinations 1993-1997, which indicate passes ranging from 29% to 35% in the 1990s (p.28). More recent data from across the region indicates that 67% of students received passes in English A in 2017 and 71% in 2018 (CXC, 2018, p.7). Thus, although significant improvements have been made over the last decade, there is still some work to be done in helping students become proficient in Standard English.

Moreover, Craig (1999) warns that these figures may not even reflect the full picture as many students are not entered for the examination due to their poor performance throughout secondary school. This chilling reality is a serious cause for concern, as it is critical that Caribbean students can communicate effectively and express themselves clearly in the standard variety. Poor proficiency also poses a threat to the development of students’ critical reading and thinking skills, as virtually all the intellectual stimuli used in schools are written in Standard English. To remedy this situation, Craig (1999) proposes increased language awareness as one of the main solutions to the problems of Standard English proficiency (p. 6). He argues that explicit awareness of the language features of both the students’ vernacular and Standard English may increase language acquisition skills in the latter.

Underlying the discourse of language awareness and language proficiency in the Caribbean are ideas surrounding language attitudes. Several authors (Ball (2011), Rickford (1997), Bartens (2001), Paraide (2002), Larre (2009) have highlighted the largely negative attitudes toward non-standard varieties, mother tongues and home languages in formal education systems. The “subtext” of language attitudes in education demands an investigation into the ways in which various language varieties (creole, dialect and standard) are perceived by students. Language attitudes are important—not just because they inform beliefs and practices in language use but also because they form part of the social and power domains of language awareness (Garett & James, 1991, p.5). These domains are concerned with the functions of language within the everyday interactions of a society and the socio-economic/political decisions that dictate the hierarchal ranking of language varieties. As such, the students’ language attitudes are critical for a robust understanding of their overall language awareness and add to the contextual appreciation of their competence in written Standard English.

Key Terms in this Chapter

English as a Second Dialect: An approach to the teaching of Standard English in contexts where a non-standard variety of English is the students’ home language.

Language Attitudes: Individuals’ feelings toward differing varieties of a language.

Non-Standard Variety: A variety of a language, which is primarily spoken, and has not been codified for use in official settings.

Language Education: Approaches to the teaching and learning of a language.

Standard English: The variety of English recorded in dictionaries and grammars and which is used in official contexts.

Vernacular: The language or language variety spoken by the ordinary people in a particular country or region.

Language Awareness: Active and passive knowledge of the linguistic components of a language.

Mother Tongue: The language or language variety spoken in the home and community and usually learned by children as their first language.

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