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Making space for variations in language

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Making space for variations in language

Anne Charity Hudley talks about how Black students navigate the designated parameters of language in higher education.

What makes someone sound like an educated American? Are students evaluated fairly on their sentence structure, vocabulary, and grammar? And what does your email client suggest you say in a reply message?

There’s a distinct default, says Anne Charity Hudley, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE). “You're trying to be understood by the widest audience possible,” she says. “And that's led us to have a focus on what we refer to as a standardized idea of English. But who makes the decisions in that process?” 

On this episode of School’s In, Charity Hudley joins GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to discuss linguistic racism and how educators, particularly in higher education, can learn to recognize and include different variations of language in the classroom.

In her new book, Talking College: Making Space for Black Language Practices in Higher Education, Charity Hudley questions the standardization process and considers how Black students navigate the linguistic expectations of college. There are on-the-spot strategic decisions that African Americans make in school and in the workplace, she says, to adapt to this standard. “On the one hand, it's how I pronounce my words, and what grammatical patterns I use,” she says. “But it's also very broad, and social-emotionally centered. We can hear ourselves making these linguistic choices because of how we’ve been socialized.” 

In higher education, there are fixed ideas of what is correct and what is an error. The go-to explanation for that is the importance of “communication” or “clarity,” she says. But that doesn’t question: Clear to what audience? 

If the consensus is that standardized English allows for greater understanding, Charity Hudley wants educators to consider who might be excluded from the conversation. “Whose voices and whose ideas are being left out — [and] also being actively discouraged?”

Historically, authors of grammar guides and dictionaries haven't even had inclusion as an afterthought in the process, says Charity Hudley. “I don't think we will see the kind of cultural and inclusion changes that we want unless we take on these issues of language.”

You can listen to School's In on SiriusXM, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Soundcloud.

Faculty mentioned in this article: Anne Harper Charity Hudley

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