Other People's Students: Elaborated Codes and Dialect in Basic Writing
Evans, Jason C.
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English teachers, especially those in the field of basic writing, have long debated how to teach writing to students whose home language differs from the perceived norm. This thesis intervenes in that stalemated debate by re-examining “elaborated codes” and by arguing for a type of correctness in writing that includes being correct according to a vernacular dialect. Elaborated codes were first theorized by British sociolinguist Basil Bernstein in the 1960s, but American educators have by and large neglected his code theories, often on the erroneous assumption that Bernstein’s project is hostile to the working classes. I examine Bernstein’s work and some key responses to it, and I show how teaching the elaborated codes solves some of the dilemmas faced by basic writing instructors. Basic writing teachers also struggle with how to teach basic literacy while respecting students’ home languages. I carefully analyze some key arguments about error and correctness, language difference, code-switching, and code-meshing to show that it is possible to respect students’ home languages even while encouraging better and more rigorous language use.