From the Editor
Although I do not dispute that differences exist among socioeconomic status (SES) and racial/ethnic groups, research is needed that goes beyond saying that parents do not talk enough to their children. I contend, along with other researchers, that families from low-income homes and nonmainstream cultures have communicative strengths that are often overlooked in studies that typically use a white, middle-class lens to examine the communicative behaviors of families from other SES groups. Heath's (1983) seminal work provides extensive examples of the creative, figurative, and challenging talk that occurred among family members, fictive kin, and young children living in the communities she studied. However, the styles of talk were often not valued or built upon in the classrooms. When describing the children in her classroom, one teacher was quoted as saying, "I would almost think that some of them have a hearing problem; it is as though they don't hear me ask a question" (Heath, 1983, p. 269). Another said, "The simplest questions are the ones they can't answer in the classroom; yet on the playground, they can explain a rule for a ballgame or describe a particular kind of bait with no problem. Therefore, I know they can't be as dumb as they seem in my class" (p. 269). In other words, the children were viewed as deficient because they did not possess the communicative abilities valued at school.
The work of Heath and other sociolinguists illustrates that the communicative behaviors expected and reinforced by schools and the larger society are not necessarily universal. Instead, the sociolinguistic environments in which children are raised reflect the normative patterns of their communities. Parents strive to help their children become competent members of their communities (Rogoff, 1990). As a result, parents have different expectations for their children, and differences in communicative styles result. "Variations in expectations for children make sense once we take into account differences in circumstances and traditions" (Rogoff, 2003, p. 6). Thus, the field of speech-language pathology needs to continue to expand its understanding of these sociolinguistic systems.
Additionally, the circumstances of poverty make life more challenging for families with limited economic resources. These challenges must be taken into account when studying children's language experiences and outcomes. For example, when I have interviewed mothers about their children's language development, I have repeatedly heard stories of violence, rape, and murder without prompting the mothers about such events. However, these experiences shaped the mothers' experiences as individuals and parents, and were elements of their lives that they wanted to share when talking about raising children. Often, the challenges of living in poverty are not considered when studying or reporting on the language experiences that parents from low-income backgrounds provide their children, but they need to be.
Therefore, the field is in need of studies that examine the sociolinguistic environments in which children's language is developing. This will help researchers, clinicians, and educators better understand the communicative abilities that are being supported in the homes and communities of children from diverse economic and cultural environments. Such information will allow the field to develop and test interventions that build on communicative strengths and that help children and families become bidialectical. Families and children benefit from knowledge of the communicative behaviors valued by the mainstream culture while maintaining the communicative patterns of their communities. Of course, this challenge is very complex, which makes it an exciting area of study.
In addition to such work on families with children, a better understanding is needed of the sociolinguistic environments of the adult clients we serve. Relatively few publications can be found in the literature that place our adult clients in a broader context. As experts in language and communication, it is imperative that we increase our efforts to study and to better understand the diversity of our clients' communicative styles that are shaped by the communities in which they live.
This article has been cited by other articles:
B. K. Gorman, A. E. Brice, and S. Berman
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Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations, July 1, 2012; 19(2): 49 - 57.
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