Mortuus et Vivus: Uncovering Writing Instructors’ Negotiations of the Standard English Dilemma and Paradox in Their Writing Assessment Practices

Sarah Johnson

Advisor: Michelle LaFrance, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Susan Lawrence, Courtney Adams Wooten

Online Location,
April 19, 2021, 02:30 PM to 04:00 PM


In response to the extensive work surrounding Standard English (SE) and linguistic equity in the field of writing studies, this study shifts the focus from theoretical calls about combatting SE to an empirical understanding of how SE is already being negotiated and navigated by writing instructors in the context of their writing assessment practices. Taking language scholar Alastair Pennycook’s view of language as a local practice and an activity intimately connected to speakers, places, and ideologies, this study was conducted via two sets of semi-structured interviews with six writing instructors in a large composition program at a Mid-Atlantic public research university in order to uncover their definitions, understandings, and negotiations of the SE paradox and dilemma in their writing assessment practices. Writing instructors’ unique and complex negotiations of this SE dilemma, including expectations surrounding SE, revealed the need for additional empirical treatments of SE in writing assessment as well as programmatic, policy-based support for instructors to better identify the tools and support instructors need in navigating this SE dilemma. In addition, instructors’ resistance to and creative negotiations of SE in their rubrics potentialize rubrics and grading tools as possible sites of innovative responses to SE as well as potential alternatives to SE ideologies. Ultimately, this dissertation works to better understand this SE dilemma, uncover its complexities, and offer empirically-grounded steps forward for writing instructors and administrators.