Language diversity refers to the valuing of multiple dialects equally, both in the composition classroom and in society. By fostering language diversity, we diverge from "unidirectional" English (Horner and Trimbur 595) that devalues vernacular language. Although I use the terms standard academic English and nonstandard academic English for ease of dialect identification, these labels are a myth, since no one user of English speaks academic English naturally. However, in this webtext, standard academic English refers to the language of the academy and nonstandard academic English refers to dialects traditionally deemed inappropriate for academic writing. Language diversity instead calls for "variety, fluidity, intermingling, and changeability of languages" (Horner et al. 305).
Standard texts tend to encourage traditional narrative structure. Print is highly valued in the classroom, perhaps more than visual. In his book Writing Spaces, Jay David Bolter writes that "this strict requirement of unity and homogeneity is relatively recent" (10). He notes that our definition of a consistent, unified text simply comes from other published texts we've read. When traditional print texts are valued more than other forms, texts that do not follow a linear narrative pattern and traditional sentence structure—such as most multimodal texts—are viewed as inferior. This value on homogenous texts may lead to singular ideas of what makes good writing.
Similarly, the notion that language should be uniform and homogenous is also relatively recent. In "Linguistic Memory and the Politics of U.S. History," John Trimbur discusses the "language forgetting" that occurs in the United States. Despite our history of being a nation with many diverse languages and dialects, we've forgotten the benefits of this. In the past, knowing many languages was useful because it helped settlers move amongst many different populations. Trimbur claims that eventually, even to speak English was not enough, but rather one must use a single, standard dialect (579). Just as texts have become valued for their homogenous composition, so has spoken and written language. Likely, these two trends are related. Overvaluing sameness in printed texts helps to foster the idea that monolingualism—the valuing of one dialect above all others—is the most valuable form of communication.
Language has a direct connection to social status. Many believe that those who decide what's "correct" in language are those who hold power in that society (Finnegan). In our first-year composition classrooms, instructors hold a degree of power to determine what language is acceptable. To foster language diversity, and thereby cultural diversity, we should encourage our students to think about language and composition in new ways. This may have larger effects outside of our courses such as the diminishing of classism and racism, which are often tied to language and dialect. James Baldwin spoke to the benefits of language diversity in his essay "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me What Is" when he wrote, "Language, incontestably, reveals the speaker. Language, also, far more dubiously, is meant to define the other. It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power...." If language is tied to culture and even our personal identities, valuing dialects and the multilingual backgrounds of our students allows us to respect of each other's cultural heritage. Otherwise, we imply that some cultural heritages are superior to others. Composition instructors can help lessen the idea of the "other" by promoting diversity and equality in the ways that we teach English. While there are social factors outside of our classrooms that determine language values, multimodal composition may be a step to honoring diversity in composition.