Imagine the frustration of living in a society that speaks a foreign language without the appropriate tools to learn the language. Most certainly, social, financial, or even spiritual progress would be a challenge. Americans living in poverty, especially generational poverty, tend to encounter similar frustrations in communicating, which often leads to barriers that prevent personal achievement.
Chapter Two of Bridges Out of Poverty discusses the role of language in poverty. It focuses on two of the registers of language: formal register and casual register. The formal register consists of “the standard syntax and word choice of work and school” that uses “complete sentences and specific word choice.” Whereas, the casual register consists of “language between friends and is characterized by a 400 to 800 word vocabulary.” The sentence syntax is often incomplete using general word choice and relies on non-verbal assists to make an assertion or tell a story. Research shows that individuals living in poverty commonly utilize the casual register and lack direct teaching in the formal register. Also, many of these individuals do not have a significant relationship with someone who is well-versed in the formal register, so even if they learned the formal register they would seldom use it and eventually forget how to use it.
Disconnect between these two registers leads to large language barriers that expand the gaps in society. Service providers may misunderstand the needs of an under resourced client. Students may perform lower on standardized tests, and have lower chances of entering higher education. Job seekers may be less likely to find career opportunities. We must consider the role language plays in poverty if we aim to build bridges to sustainable communities. Only then will we start to bridge the gaps.