BAAL/Cambridge University Press seminar on the pathologisation of non-standard language

This event will be held at 24 and 25 April at Charles Street Building at Sheffield Hallam University.

It  aims to provide a forum for discussion, and a springboard for collaborative working, between sociolinguists, speech and language therapists (SLTs) and educationalists. The outcomes of its discussions on the discourses of pathology and their deficit model will eventually be disseminated during a conference colloquium, with plans for publication in a special issue of the journal Language and Discrimination. 

In previous work and in a previous BAAL/CUP funded seminar (2011), we have discussed a resurgence of language deficit perspectives in political, educational and media discourse (Grainger and Jones 2013). In addition, the profession of speech and language pathology has become involved in the debates, often drawn in by policy makers to lend authority to claims of linguistic deficit in children from poorer families and to support remedial communication programmes for schools and families in socially disadvantaged areas. The assumption is that the alleged lack of communicative skill in poorer children is attributable to inadequate parenting, which then results in linguistic pathology. While there are echoes here of the ‘compensatory’ educational initiatives inspired by Basil Bernstein’s work in the 1970s (Jones, 2013), the 21st century repackaging of the issue involves extending the professional remit of SLT into the education of typically developing children and their parents (e.g. Locke et al. 2002).

While speech and language pathology (SLT) is traditionally based on a medical model of language development, a sociolinguistic perspective is missing from all such recent proposals for communicational intervention (e.g. Bercow et al. 2008; All Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, 2013). Collaboration between sociolinguists, educational linguists and the profession of SLT would therefore seem particularly timely. Such collaboration will promote knowledge and awareness of the social context of language use and will provide a more balanced evidence base on which to draw for future policy-making. It is therefore the goal of the proposed workshop to bring together educationalists, SLTs and sociolinguists who are interested in collaborative research that questions the pathologisation of poor children’s communication skills, that foregrounds the role of social context in language use, and that emphasises the economic inequalities underlying differential educational achievement. The workshop will focus on the production of an action plan for future collaboration between specialists in the three discipline areas.

For more information, please contact Dr Karen Grainger (k.p.grainger@shu.ac.uk) or Dr Peter E. Jones (p.e.jones@shu.ac.uk).


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