Is there is one correct way of communicating? Or is writing is culturally situated?

First, read the passage below and prepare to write a response. This excerpt is written by Anjali Pattanayak, who serves as the Academic Enrichment Coordinator for Multicultural Student Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Plattsville.

Then, in 3-4 paragraphs:

Summarize what Pattanayak is saying in this passage, and;
Respond to Pattanayak by explaining where you agree with her, where you disagree and what questions you have

People consistently lament that kids today can’t speak properly or that people coming to this country need to learn to write correctly. These complaints are based on the idea that there is a single correct way of speaking and writing. It is a common belief that people should just learn to speak and write proper English. This belief is called current traditional rhetoric, which focuses on a prescriptive and formulaic way of teaching writing that assumes there is only one way to write (or speak) something for it to be correct. However, over the past several decades, scholars in Writing Studies have examined the ways in which writing has a close dialectical relationship with identity, style, genre, and culture. In other words, the rules for writing shift with the people and the community involved as well as the purpose and type of writing.

Is there is one correct way of communicating? Or is writing is culturally situated? This might seem to be a trivial question, the reality is that when people argue there is one correct way to speak and write, they disenfranchise many populations who are already marginalized by society. The writing most valued in the “correct-incorrect” binary is a type of writing that is situated in middle-class white culture. In adhering to so-called correct language, we are devaluing the non-standard dialects, cultures, and therefore identities of people and their communicative situations that do not fit a highly limited mold.

The idea of one correct way of writing is troubling because it operates under the assumption that linguistic differences are the result of error. The reality is that, for many speakers, what we might perceive as a mistake is actually a system of difference. One notable example of a different dialect of English is Ebonics, which has different patterns of speech rooted in the ancestral heritage of its speakers. Similarly, immigrant groups will frequently speak and write English in a way that mirrors the linguistic heritage of their mother tongue.

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In order to value the diversity of communication and identities that exist in the U.S., we need to start teaching and envisioning writing as a cultural and social activity. We need a more nuanced view of writing in society that encourages everyone to adapt to their audiences and contexts rather than placing an undue burden on those who do not fit the mold of standard English. One strategy for teaching academic English without devaluing a writer’s identity is code-switching, a concept already taught in schools with significant minority populations as a way of empowering young people. While instruction in code-switching is valuable because it teaches students that they can adopt different linguistic choices to appeal to different audiences, it is deeply problematic in that the expectation is still placed on minority students with non-standard dialects to adapt. While code-switching is meant to empower people, it is still rooted in the mentality that there is one correct way of writing. Even as code-switching teaches an incredibly nuanced way of thinking about writing, it is still being taught in the context of preparing writers to deal with a society that will use errors in speaking as evidence that they are lesser. As a result, it is a less-than ideal solution because it plays into—rather than undermines—the racism of academic English.

By perpetuating the myth of one correct way of writing, we linguistically and culturally marginalize large parts of the population. The first steps in combating this are easy: 1) recognizing how “correctness” reinforces inequality and affects our own perceptions of people and 2) questioning our assumptions about communication.

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