Date of Award

Summer 2000

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Applied Linguistics

Committee Director

Michael Aceto

Committee Member

Janet M. Bing

Committee Member

John P. Broderick


This language attitude study targets third grade, fifth grade, eighth grade and high school students in the Northampton County, Virginia, Public School System. Two hypotheses were proposed. First, students exhibiting negative attitudes toward their own dialect have a lower performance level in language arts classes than students expressing positive attitudes. Second, factors such as sex, race, grade level, and level of exposure to other dialects are reflected in language attitudes. In order to determine the validity of these hypotheses, school officials were asked to identify five students performing well and five students having difficulty in the language arts. Ten third graders, fifteen fifth graders, five eighth graders, and six high school students participated in the survey, for a total of thirty-six respondents. Surveys were conducted at Kiptopeke Elementary, Northampton Middle and Northampton High Schools.

Students were first asked to look at a series of pictures and recount the series of events. These stories were captured on cassette tape. Students were then asked to listen to an audiotape recording of four speakers with four different dialects telling the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” As they were listening to each speaker, students were asked to circle on a survey form their responses to four closed-choice statements rating the speaker's friendliness, intelligence, familiarity, and general character.

The results indicate three possible areas of correlation. Students who have been exposed to several language varieties are more likely to stigmatize the local language varieties. Students performing well in the language arts have tended to reject the local variety in favor of the less stigmatized Standard Southern variety. African-American students are more sensitive to the dialect differences of their white and black instructors than are their white peers.