Discourse tensions, Englishes, and the composition classroom

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The thrust of much of the debate on what has been variously called "alternative discourse," "mixed forms," "hybrid language," or even my own term "academic interlanguage" (Nero) has been couched in terms of dilemmas, conflicting goals, or tensions. Lisa Delpit begins her essay "The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse" as follows: "I have encountered a certain sense of powerlessness and paralysis among many sensitive and well-meaning literacy educators who appear to be caught in the throes of a dilemma. Although their job is to teach literate discourse styles to all of their students, they question whether that is a task they can actually accomplish for poor students and students of color" (285). A decade later, Janet Bean and her colleagues noted: "Lucile Clifton's poem1 sets the essential dilemma not just for us but for an enormous amount of teachers: what someone from one culture is thinking may not be fully sayable in the language of another culture. By inviting home languages in classrooms dominated by standard English, we seem to be pursuing an impossible goal. What shall we do?" (38). In both cases, the tensions expressed have to do with how to validate students' vernaculars and teach them academic discourse at the same time. Both Delpit and Bean and her colleagues propose concrete strategies as possible solutions to the dilemmas discussed in their respective essays. Delpit argues for teaching the dominant discourse and making explicit the culture of power in the classroom while providing models of vernacular speakers who have succeeded in the mainstream. Bean and her colleagues, using a different approach, suggest inviting students to write in their home language in certain situations (such as freewriting, fiction, or memoirs), leaving the home language as the final product, while in other situations (such as formal academic essays), the home language can be used as the starting point, then revised into edited academic English.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCross-Language Relations in Composition
PublisherSouthern Illinois University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)0809329824, 9780809329823
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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