Document Details

Document Type:   Thesis
Title:   Narrativizing Success: Attitudes toward African American Vernacular English in the Composition Classroom
Author:   Christopher W. DiOrio
College:   Liberal Arts
Degree Program:   English, M.A.
Degree:   Master of Arts
Committee Director:   John Young
Document Availability:   Document available for World-Wide access.
Date of Defense:   May 2011

My thesis analyzes academia' response to African American Vernacular English (AAVE) features in academic writing and how teachers' responses to AAVE writing create socially constructed personas for students based on their vernacular dialect features. The results show spoken language strongly influences written language, although the range of dialect use varies from single feature usage to use of multiple features, and occurrences of use are highly localized. While instances of AAVE in academic writing are irregular, instructor response to features shows a pattern of strikethroughs and imperative statements used to correct language. As studies demonstrate such approaches to writing have negligible effect on students' writing (analysis shows AAVE features that have been marked by instructors in such fashion persist in final drafts), educators must practice new approaches to addressing AAVE in composition classrooms. As academic writing is more than the application of standard grammars, academia needs to rethink the weight placed upon Standard American English (SAE) in relation to non-standard varieties of English. Current attitudes of "zero tolerance" for non-standard English dialects suggest educators could benefit from a course on language awareness and on American dialects. However, knowledge of nonstandard dialects does not appear to be sufficient, as negative attitudes towards AAVE persist, even in classrooms where instructors have received training. Instructor attitude may greatly influence student writing, but to prepare students for success as agents of language, students must recognize social implications of language. As instructors should be expected to gain knowledge of and have respect for language diversity, students should be expected to gain a similar knowledge of language diversity and the choices available to them as writers. Academia presents a space of interaction between knowledge and thought, designed to develop students into professionals within a wide range of areas. As academia continues to grow and diversify in the areas of studies, instructors, and students, room must be made to include the diverse languages of marginalized groups. This thesis addresses the history of academia's treatment of AAVE, an examination of AAVE features, and solutions towards shifting current attitudes towards languages in order to support the design of academia. 

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