- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2000

''I ain't got none" and "I haven't got any" may mean the same thing, as West Virginia linguistics professor Kirk Hazen maintains, except that the former is illiterate and the latter is not. Never mind, says Mr. Hazen. "Teachers shouldn't tell their students how they're saying something is wrong," he tells this newspaper's Ellen Sorokin. "I don't think it's their job to correct dialect features."

"Dialect features." What a neat, even elegant, name for plain, bad grammar. And what a heedless, even irresponsible, attitude for a so-called educator. For if the students' teachers don't correct bad grammar, who will? Certainly not their prospective employers, who, even now, hopefully expect college graduates to communicate in standard English.

Meanwhile, back at the ivory tower, Mr. Hazen is on a who-is-to-say relativist crusade to place "ain't" on a par with "isn't," to equate regional slangs with standard English. (If you think this sounds like an argument for "Ebonics," once touted as a distinct language, you are right.) "It's all dialects," Mr. Hazen says. "And who's to say which dialect is the right one? Whose dialect would be considered the norm?" Of course, Mr. Hazen has more on his mind than "dialect features." "Dialect discrimination is the last open back door to discrimination in the country," he says. "You can't be fired from your job as a chemical engineer for being a Southerner, but you can be fired for not sounding intelligent." Regardless of whether this is true, it must be said that employment opportunities in the field of chemical engineering are on the limited side for a candidate who fails to "sound intelligent."

Perhaps the most frightening thing about Mr. Hazen is that he is not alone. "To start judging people by the way they speak is incorrect," says Daniel Moshenberger, an associate professor of English at George Washington University. "Telling students that their dialects are wrong would lower the standards of education. That's educationally indefensible," says Linda Coleman, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland. To coin a phrase: Huh? That we are at the point, as achievement tests indicate, where college students may not be assumed to speak and write standard English is bad enough. Discovering that at least some college-level instructors not only condone but support this failure is appalling. Such attitudes may be explained by a particularly apt phrase in E.B. White's essay, "An Approach to Style," included in the third edition of "The Elements of Style." Arguing for both the effectiveness and aesthetics of established usage, Mr. White sees in non-standard usage "the disinclination to submit to discipline." Nicely put. This is not to say nor does he that there is no room for dialect, slang words, and other colorful variations on American English. Without them we wouldn't have Huck Finn, Brer Rabbit or the residents of Yoknapatawpha County. But there is a place for such language; and the lecture hall, the board room, the courtroom and the reception desk, however, are not it.

'Nuff said.

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