Children, those who use multiple languages and linguistic forms AND those who are monolingual, need frequent restorative conversations about languages, literacies, and linguistics in order to embrace the diversity around us. And they to be acknowledged and feel safe about their use of and exploration about languages and linguistics as they learn to read and write.
All of us can be mindful of descriptive linguistics, sociolinguistics, prescriptive linguistics, and linguistic justice while we are interacting with children and bigger humans about literacies. Descriptive linguistics analyze and describe features and patterns of a language, such as phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicology in an objective manner. Sociolinguistics study the social factors of languages, such as regional, class, occupational, age, or gender dialects, along with code-switching, code-meshing, or translanguaging. Prescriptive linguistics deal with “correct” language, particularly in terms of who (usually those who wield power) decides what is right and wrong in language. And linguistic justice strives to counter oppression from prescriptive linguistics.
We know that language is constantly changing, adaptive to different situations, and evolving over time. And we know that young toddlers say goed and wabbit, call all four-legged animals, big and small, horsies, and declare that electric outlets are pigs. At the same time, absolutely no one at any age likes it when our language is sternly corrected, mocked, or appropriated.
How can we see that language can be good enough, but in some circumstances, how language can strive to be accurate?
Good enough is when the listener got the meaning of things in the moment, right?
Does it really matter when a child says, me and my daddy? Does it really matter that a child writes shrgr (sugar) and joos (juice) on the grocery list? Does it really matter that a child who stutters calls it a snow vacuum instead of a snowplow? Does it really matter that a deaf child, one who can read, points to a chameleon and says, cham-mell-on? Does it really matter when a child miscues a word, while reading out loud, that doesn’t change the meaning, such as my house for my home? Does it really matter that adults read aloud books with delightful animation instead of exacting word-by-word? Does it really matter that a child speaking Black language says aks (ask), git (get), or uses the invariant be? Does it really matter when children write a first draft in their native syntax, such as using an adjective after a noun?
What really matters is that children, despite their vulnerability, are showing up to speak, listen, read, write, explore, and reflect on letters, words, and meaning.
Yet, there are indeed circumstances where language can strive to be accurate.
My friend, Meg, recently presented a webinar for authors writing about sailing. Even if the authors are writing a science fiction, mythology, romance novel, or poem, they are wise to use correct terminology and concepts, such as sheets, jibes, and broad reach. And to use historically correct types of sailing vessels over the centuries. If we dialogue a language or dialect that is not ours, say French or Yooper, we should double check its authenticity. And aren’t we thankful for some of our best editors around when readying a manuscript for publication?
But pity the children whose speech or oral reading are constantly picked on. They shut down and no longer share. They quickly think they are bad readers or terrible writers. And they feel stupid, marginalized, and resentful. And they drop out of school, either with hoodies pulled over their heads or skip school altogether.
Only in mutual restorative conversations, one that is not in a prescriptive right or wrong manner, there can be heartfelt—and delightful—exploration of the nature of language, literacies, and linguistics all around us.