Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Christopher Holcomb


This dissertation explores how language ideologies influence composition, both in disciplinary approaches to language difference and in individual instructors’ attitudes about language correctness and appropriateness. The dissertation presumes that all natively-spoken varieties of human languages are inherently systematic and valid, and that from a linguistic standpoint, contrary to popular belief, no variety is “better” than another; moreover, beliefs about language correctness intersect with structural racism and therefore contribute to inequality. Popular beliefs about the superiority of Standard English (SE) and academic discourse, both based in white, middle-class communicative practices, still influence composition; so this dissertation is particularly interested in how instructors engage with student work that uses nonprestige varieties of American English, most notably African American English (AAE). It presumes that composition instruction will be more equitable and anti-racist if teachers allow more sociolinguistic research and scholarship on linguistic variation to influence their pedagogies and assessment. The dissertation is influenced by the translingual approach, which promotes appreciation for linguistic diversity, the cultivation of diverse linguistic repertoires, communication across linguistic boundaries, and challenges to harmful myths about language competence. After the establishment of the theoretical framework and exigence in the first chapter, the second chapter provides historical context by outlining four major approaches to language difference in composition: eradicationism, assimilationism, pluralism, and translingualism. The third chapter differentiates between two connected writing practices: code-switching, currently prominent in composition instruction, which requires the use of the language variety considered most appropriate for a context; and codemeshing, a newly articulated practice, which enables writers to blend two or more codes. The chapter then explores the warrants underlying arguments in favor of code-meshing. The fourth chapter explores how white instructors’ prior experiences contributed to their responses to a code-meshed student essay incorporating AAE conventions, and the fifth chapter traces how a different group of white instructors used narratives to reconcile their prior experiences with newly-encountered scholarship on linguistic diversity and translingualism. Finally, the sixth chapter draws on interview data and professionalization research to make recommendations for promoting awareness of linguistic diversity and translingual scholarship among college writing instructors.