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Linguistic deficit revisited

Research Centre
Communication and Computing Research Centre

December 2012

This special issue aims to bring together the work of scholars who are interested in the link between education and social disadvantage but who represent an alternative view to the 'deficit' model of working-class linguistic competence.

Karen Grainger and Peter Jones (CCRC) are spearheading this project which is a reaction to recent think-tank and press reports which suggest that educational failure can be addressed through linguistic means. These reports claim that children from socially disadvantaged families are often communicatively incompetent, and that this can be corrected through early intervention in the primary curriculum. This betrays a worrying lack of knowledge of sociolinguistic research and communication theory, twinned with a notable middle-class bias. In their treatment of the linguistic interactions within working class and poorer families they represent a resurgence of a prejudiced and socially intolerant 'deficit’ approach to children’s language and communication. The favourable reception that these think-tank reports have had in the press and across the political spectrum, suggests that it is time, once again, for sociolinguists to challenge the common misconception that linguistic difference is tantamount to linguistic, cognitive and cultural deficit. The danger, otherwise, is that educational policy and practice will be guided by such erroneous and socially divisive ideas and schools' attempts to counteract the effects of social deprivation will be misdirected.

The first major step in this project was to bring together scholars from sociolinguistics, educational sociology and language pathology in a seminar to debate the link between education and social disadvantage and to represent an alternative view to the 'deficit' model of working-class linguistic competence. This seminar, funded by the British Association of Applied Linguistics and Cambridge University Press, took place in April 2011.

The papers from it have been brought together and published in a special issue of the peer reviewed journal, Language and Education, guest edited by Karen Grainger and Peter Jones. The issue brings together an interesting mix of empirical and theoretical studies from across the disciplines of educational sociology, sociolinguistics and critical communication theory, as well as dealing with both spoken language and literacy.

The project as whole has attracted the attention of the press (viz. Times Educational Supplement) and the Office of the Communication Champion.

Researchers involved

Dr Peter Jones - Principal Lecturer in Communication Studies

Dr Karen Grainger - Principal Lecturer (English Language)

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