A Culturally Sustaining & Critical Sociolinguistic Grammar Game



My passions are language, literacy, and African-descendent cultures. As a toddler and elementary school student, I developed a love of speaking and reading that facilitated my aptitude for literacy in school and my awareness of linguistic diversity in my community. In addition to African American Language and Jamaican Patwa, my languaging practices also included several forms of Mainstream American English that my parents modeled in my home and that I read daily in my story books and magazines. My reading voice closely mirrored my writing and speaking voices, and this proficiency easily allowed me to access and comprehend information across disciplines. Conversely, when speakers of multiple languages and varieties of English struggle to acquire Mainstream American English, they can become locked out of opportunities for educational, social, and economic advancement. We need better instructional methods to strengthen the literacy skills of culturally and linguistically diverse youth.

For the past fifteen years and more, researchers and journalists have asserted that the future of the United States is multicultural and multilingual. Yet, the same can be said of the past and the present. Cultural and linguistic diversity always have been a part of the United States, since before it was the United States, but our education policy has remained firmly nativist and monolingual, with the goal of assimilating all groups to a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, English-speaking standard. English language and literature instruction rooted in these standards serve to reproduce racialized divisions, deficit narratives, and educational inequity. Models of literacy instruction based on monolingualism and racialized standards are inadequate to support the multimodal linguistic dexterity needed for success in the 21st century, where cross-cultural competence and collaboration are required. In consideration of these unmet needs, I asked the following questions:

  1. What kind of supplementary tools would best support the development of critical linguistic awareness in youth who speak multiple varieties of English?
  2. What would a phonics and grammar game look like from a decolonial poststructuralist sociolinguistic perspective?
  3. How can the game account for the translanguaging performed by multilingual speakers?


Project Description

To address the challenges of teaching and learning literacy among linguistically diverse populations, I propose to build a website with short articles, videos, audio samples, and interactive games that teach about American Englishes and World Englishes from a critical sociolinguistic perspective. My primary target audience are adolescents and lower level undergraduate students and their teachers.

Participants will perform scientific analyses and close readings of language through game play. Instead of teaching about one U.S. English variety, it would teach the historical development, culture, and grammar of several varieties, including African American Language, Gullah-Geechee, US VI Creole, and Hawaiian Creole. In addition, it would teach the most common features of World Englishes so that students will learn the similarities among Englishes spoken in the Caribbean, South America, and the Pacific. Using elements of gaming and universal design for learning, this site will build critical linguistic awareness and grammatical elasticity (TM) for all students. Grammatical elasticity refers to the skills needed to expand and flexibly use one’s entire linguistic repertoire.

A draft mission statement: While other tools teach grammar, SX teaches about grammar. We apply theories of critical sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, and universal design for learning to both construct and deconstruct languaging practices. We are the first educational technology company dedicated to teaching grammar from an array of U.S. and World English varieties, building grammatical elasticity and literacy competence for K-12 students. 


Short List of Competitors


  2. Toggle Talk (http://learningtotalk.umd.edu/toggletalk/) is a supplemental language arts curriculum for elementary school students. The mission statement is “Toggle Talk is an evidence-based language arts curriculum supplement created specifically for kindergarten and first grade teachers. Toggle Talk helps children become bi-dialectually fluent by using Contrastive Analysis to teach children how to make situationally appropriate language choices. Toggle Talk is designed to help teachers address hard-to-meet MD College and Career Ready Standards for speaking, listening, and language.”
    1. The audience is K-2 teachers.
    2. The modality is written books and pictures.
    3. Theoretical frame:Toggle Talk is a fully-developed language arts curriculum supplement that uses scripted lessons to teach students how to recognize and produce language in both their home/informal language and the classroom/formal language. Lessons use picture sorting, writing, and read-alouds with custom-written storybooks to introduce the concept of home/informal/non-academic language vs. classroom/formal/academic language. Toggle Talk lessons are about 15-20 minutes long and are delivered by the classroom teacher about 2-3 times a week for about 16 weeks.”
    4. Gaps:
      1. There are weak theoretical underpinnings. The program draws false distinctions between formal and informal, academic and non-academic language.
      2. The scope is limited to teachers as users.
      3. There is no online component.
      4. It is proprietary ( I think…)


  1. International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) (http://www.dialectsarchive.com)
    1. About:The International Dialects of English Archive was created in 1997 as the internet’s first archive of primary-source recordings of English-language dialects and accents as heard around the world. With roughly 1,400 samples from 120 countries and territories, and more than 170 hours of recordings, IDEA is now the largest archive of its kind.”
    2. “IDEA’s recordings are principally in English, are of native speakers, and include both English-language dialects and English spoken in the accents of other languages. (Many include brief demonstrations of the speaker’s native language, too.) The archive also includes extensive Special Collections.”
    3. Gaps:
      1. It is an archive of speech samples with no information on the history of the language variety, the local cultures, or activities to support phonological and syntactical awareness
      2. The audience is primarily adult actors in theater and movies


  1. Jamaican Patwah and Slang Dictionary (http://jamaicanpatwah.com/)
    1. About: “JamaicanPatwah.com is a patois dictionary of Jamaican patois words, slang terms, proverbs, idioms, jargon, and figurative usages. As a dictionary of only Jamaican patois terms, we’re suitable for persons interested in learning about Jamaican patios and native speakers looking to expand their vocabulary.”
    2. Gaps:
      1. It uses a search engine feature for users to type in words in Patwa. If words are misspelled, they are not translated.
      2. There is no transparency, no information about the people behind the company.
      3. Individual users can add entries. How do they test the reliability?
      4. There no information on grammar or connections with other English varieties.


  1. Jamaican Translator (http://www.jamaicantranslator.com/)
    1. About: “The Jamaican Translator, orginally started as a class project, where a few brilliant young men came up with an idea to create there very own Jamaican Translator. Our dream for this project is to create a world standard Jamaican translator where persons interesting in the Jamaican Creole language can simply come and learn just by using the translator.”
    2. Gaps:
      1. It uses a search engine feature for users to type in words in Patwa. If words are misspelled, they are not translated.
      2. There is no transparency:
        1. no information about the people behind the company.
        2. There is a page to donate money, but there are no names, email or physical addresses listed for the contact information.
        3. Individual users can add entries. How do they test the reliability?
        4. There no information on grammar or connections with other English varieties.


  1. Learn Jamaican (learnjamaican.com)
    1. About: “We are language enthusiasts. The Jamaican Patois audio is spoken by a native speaker.” The site sells audio lessons with a text manual. The full price is $37 for the complete lesson.
    2. Gaps:
      1. There is no transparency:
        1. There is no information about the people behind the company.
        2. One can purchase information, but there are no names, email or physical addresses listed for the contact information.
      2. The purpose is to teach words and phrases in isolation. There are no
      3. There no information on grammar or connections with other English varieties.

Sample Games (Extended Version)

The interface of the game will be modeled after the role-playing and SIMS-style games Township and Homescapes, both published by Playrix, and Restaurant DASH with Gordon Ramsay, published by Glu. In my proposed game, the goal will be to create a neighborhood by designing one’s home, neighborhood, and restaurant to cook food for community celebrations. When beginning the game, each player can choose a physical description and basic design for their home.


  1. LEVEL I: Participants will understand and apply letter-sound correspondence by transliterating words between Mainstream American English (MAE), U.S. and World English varieties (WEV), and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
    1. Borrow-I can build practice lessons using the online Phonemic Chart. Exercises will prompt users to enter words in IPA, MAE, or WEV and copy and paste their responses on my website.
    2. Borrow and Build-I need to build a targeted inventory of select features from WEVs. Players will choose 1-3 WEVs that matches or most closely resembles their home languaging practices. The game will use this information to isolate features that pertain to their languaging practices. The interface will be in a game format, and they will receive points for each correct entry. Participants can redeem points for avatar and home accessories.


  1. LEVEL II: Participants will understand and apply the most common phonological and grammatical features between Mainstream American English (MAE) and U.S. and World English varieties (WEV).
    1. Borrow- I can build practice lessons using the online website The Electronic World Atlas of Varieties of English. One exercise will teach participants to navigate the website and the available statistics. Additional exercises will center on the top 10 most common features of WEV, as indicated by the Electronic World Atlas website. Exercises will integrate cultural knowledge from a variety of places that speak English. Players will need to complete a variety of fill in the blank and matching games to complete each challenge.


  1. LEVEL III: Participants will distinguish and apply the phonological and grammatical differences between Mainstream American English (MAE) and U.S. and World English varieties (WEV).
    1. Build-I need to build on the inventory created in Level I and add simple sentences related using dining and eating vocabulary. In order to build the neighborhood and serve guests at the community celebrations, players will need to hold conversations with them using the appropriate WEV. For these games, players can select a world region where speakers will originate from. For example, choices would be the Caribbean, the Pacific, Africa, and North America. By adding choice, players can enjoy more targeted practice with culturally relevant WEVs.
    2. Borrow?- I hope that I can borrow some code from Glu publishers to build the cooking scenes. Players will cook dishes from the countries where their customers are from. As in Restaurant DASH, each dish will only take a few steps, and dishes will increase in complexity as the player improves in skill level. For culturally sustaining practices, each restaurant will also feature décor and music that are representative of that culture.


  1. Timeframes: I predict that the extended version will take at least 2 years to create. In a shortened version, I will only pursue LEVEL I games and limit my inventory to African American Language and Jamaican Patwa. I believe that I could complete this stripped down version in 1 year.


  • Hi Kahdiedra,
    Your project is so comprehensive, all that you’ve put forth is truly admirable. I think your idea is the apotheosis of Digital Humanities and strikes me as the kind of project that Kimon Keramides mentioned he has worked on, during his skills labs with us. I can only imagine that your project, once completed, is one that the likes of the New York Public Library and Smithsonian could (should) add to their collections. I also like the way you started your writing with a reflection about yourself and language, which lends an authenticity and personal touch to your vast expertise. ~Carolyn
  • Zohra Saed says:
    This is an incredible project! It is is transformative and I am especially appreciative of the connections between the creole languages: Jamaican, Hawaiian (is creole the same as Hawaiian pidgeon?), and Gullah Geechi. I was introduced to a new reading of Gullah language through the work of Sylvian Diouef. I am excited to hear more about how this project develops!

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