Thomas Packer-Stucki

Thesis title:

Tuning in to Accentism: Dialect, Discrimination and Education in the Black Country


Within the UK, each year thousands of children begin school only to find that the language variety that they speak at home is at odds with the one used in the classroom. This was deftly illustrated when a Black Country primary school sent a letter to parents explaining that local dialect forms would no longer be tolerated in the classroom. However, coverage of the story in the local press revealed the parents’ reaction to be one of disdain, demonstrating how the standard language ideology within education is often at odds with how accent and dialect are experienced within the local community; where they are a source of pride and connection. While research into language acquisition demonstrates the necessary milestones children must reach in order to be “ready for school”, studies have rarely investigated how the involvement of stigmatised dialects impact on this journey. Indeed, earlier work has shown that the denigration of local dialect forms can lead to lower engagement in class. This can be a contributing factor in overall academic attainment; in some cases acting as a barrier to literacy. The negative effects of these early experiences can have long lasting consequences (Labov, 1994).

The project will combine the perspectives and platforms of two research sites: Primary Schools in the West Midlands, and the collaborative partnering of ‘Black Country Radio’ a local radio station and community hub. This collaboration presents a unique opportunity to unite the contrasting perspectives of community and classroom whilst simultaneously benefiting both. The primary academic research site will in the classroom. How do children cope with the competing language ideologies of home and school? How do they integrate this understanding within their developing linguistic systems? And ultimately, how does this development impact more generally on their academic attainment?

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