Some Guidelines for Respecting Language Diversity in Writing

Writing Across the Curriculum

UW students bring a rich variety of dialects and languages to the classroom, giving instructors who use writing in their classes a unique opportunity to build on students’ linguistic resources. Unfortunately, it is easy for instructors to value the language of some groups more than others. As instructors whose goal is for all students to be successful, we need to take care to respect the languages students bring with them to our classes.

Respecting language diversity impacts students’ success as writers and their feelings of well-being on campus. Our responses to student writing can inspire creative critical thinking or limit it. They can make a student feel like he or she belongs or seem to confirm a student’s sense of alienation. They can work to affirm or dismiss a student’s heritage and language. After all, writing even about the most distant topics can feel personal, closely linked to a student’s own identity.

So what might guide our approach to students’ diverse language resources? In 1974 members of the Conference on College Communication and Composition adopted a resolution entitled “Students’ Right to Their Own Language.”

We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language — the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.

For detailed recommendations see:

“Students’ Right to Their Own Language” College Composition and Communication 25, 1974.

The article is available through the following URL: <>           

Other recommended resources include:

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued.” College Composition and Communication 57.4 (2006): 586–615. Print.

This article describes the changing global role of English(es) and argues for accepting and incorporating many varieties of English in formal, academic writing.

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. Critical Academic Writing and Multilingual Students. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Print.

This volume facilitates teacher self-reflection and enables readers to better understand the motivations and pedagogical implications—especially for multilingual writing—of a more openly pedagogical approach.

Horner, Bruce, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur. “Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach.” College English 73.3 (2011): 303–321. Print.

The authors contend that a focus on linguistic homogeneity is at odds with actual language use today. They call for a translingual approach, which they define as seeing difference in language not as a barrier to overcome or as a problem to manage, but as a resource for producing meaning in writing, speaking, reading, and listening.

Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. Print.

This authoritative, engaging, and affirming book on the linguistic and rhetorical history of African American English is a must read both for those who speak African American English and those who are new to it.

Young, Vershawn, and Aja Martinez. Code-meshing as World English: Pedagogy, Policy, Performance. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2011. Print.

Editors Vershawn Ashanti Young and Aja Y. Martinez, along with a range of scholars from international and national literacy studies, English education, writing studies, sociolinguistics, and critical pedagogy, argue that all writers and speakers benefit when we demystify academic language and encourage students to explore the plurality of the English language in both unofficial and official spaces.