Researching John Honey

One of the things I’m interested in connection with the research for the Bridging the Unbridgeable project is John Honey, the author of Language is Power (1997) and the earlier pamphlet The Language Trap (1983) (as well as several other publications). Honey’s publications were pretty controversial – to put it mildly – and much has been written about them in the public press as well as in reviews of his work. If you search for John Honey in this blog, many references that illustrate this will come up.

One of my colleagues in linguistics assured me that the debate about Honey’s controversial views had died down along when Honey died himself, which, as we now know thanks to Cynthia Lange’s research, must have happened around 2002.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Keeping this blog allowed me to take a measure of the current interest in Honey and his publications, and on the basis of the data provided on search terms to get to the blog I can see that for the past thirty days, 13% of the search terms through which readers accessed the blog included a reference to John Honey or his publications.

Among the search terms there were john honey, john honey language is power, does accent matter john honey, john honey the language trap, john honey prescriptivism, john honey trudgill and john honey language inschool. The most peculiar search term found was john honey is english an african language – I have no idea what happened there. All this confirms, against the assertion of my colleague, that John Honey and his writings are very much a topical issue in research at the moment.

For my own part, I’d like to get in touch with whoever is doing research on Honey, as I’d like to hear what they think about the debate surrounding his publications. Perhaps we can exchange views on this controversial man that will help put him and his work into a more neutral, rather more objective perspective in the light of what was going on in the British educational system during the 1980s and 90s.

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8 Responses to Researching John Honey

  1. Lottie says:

    Me! Me! Me! I am very interested in this intriguing character. I am undertaking a contemporary historical analysis of LA and KAL between 1979-1997, a wider debate that Honey falls into rather haphazardly..

  2. CVTM says:

    Sorry. Language Awareness (LA) and Knowledge about Language (KAL). Yes, the timing of Honey’s Language Trap publication is important, I think, in England’s educational picture. The Tories were in, and had very clear idea as to what they wanted to do with the school system. I would like to know more about his relationship with the Tory grammar die hard Rhodes Boyson (aka Wackford Squeers). Formerly a comprehensive school Head, Boyson knew well the issues faced by English teachers. I wonder: How did they hook up? Who approached who? What was the proposal or remit?

  3. A book by Honey that hasn’t been mentioned anywhere in this blog (at least I haven’t found it!) is “Does Accent Matter? The Pygmalion Factor”, published by Faber and Faber in 1989. The blurb about him says that for six years (in the 1970-80s) he was Professor and Head of the School of Education at Leicester Polytechnic, “and is now a Visiting Professor. In 1985 he embarked upon a new career as a consultant in English linguistics and the teaching of English as a Foreign Language. [it doesn’t say who may have employed him as such!] This has taken him to many countries around the world, and in 1988 he began an assignment as Professor of English in Bophutatswana.” Before he was appointed to Leicester Polytechnic, I know that he taught at the University of Salisbury, Zimbabwe.

  4. Charlotte says:

    [career as a consultant in English linguistics] His employer here appears to be the ‘inner’ Conservative group, the NCES. I don’t think Keith Joseph paid it much attention though.

  5. NCES? Keith Joseph, British barrister and politician (wikipedia)?

    • Charlotte says:

      National Council of Educational Standards. Keith Joseph, one of the few men Thatcher took advice from and mastermind of the establishment of selective schooling within the common schooling system.

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