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Language and social class

Peter Hawkins

Social-class differences in children's speech and language have attracted a lot of attention in recent years, and a variety of theories have been put forward to explain and describe them. Some have claimed that lower-class, or working-class children possess a language which is deficient or limited by comparison with middle-class children; in an extreme version of this hypothesis it has been claimed that these children have virtually no language at all, and that we have to teach it to them from scratch. Others have denied this and claimed that working-class children's language is merely different from the middle-class, but equally rich and complex. My aim  here is to present some of the findings of recent research, and to suggest that there are new ways of looking at the problem. Social-class language differences can, I suggest, be best discussed via the notion of the verbal strategy, so I shall begin by introducing and explaining this.

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