Basil Bernstein researched speech and how it affected educational attainment. Bernstein suggested that class difference in speech patterns were related to educational attainment


Restricted speech code is a kind of shorthand speech, which Bernstein claimed is used by the working class and in more generality by married couples. This can involve not finishing sentences properly as there is a mutual understanding between the people having the conversation. Restricted speech codes involve the limited use of advanced English and inclusion of adjective, adverbs or adverbial clauses.bernstein1


Restricted speech codes tend to operate in terms of particularistic meanings, and as such are tied to specific contexts. According to Bernstein, this type of speech code is primarily used by the working class.


Elaborated speech codes are the complete opposite. It explicitly verbalizes many of the meanings that are taken for granted in the restricted speech code. Bernstein claims that elaborated speech codes are mainly used by the middle and upper classes and for these two classes its meaning can be universalistic: they are not tied to a particular context.


In one of his experiments Bernstein choose two five year olds, one from a working class background and one from a middle class background. The two five year olds were shown four pictures. They were then told to make up a story and ask what they could see in the four pictures. The middle class five year old explained every picture in detail making it easy for the listener to understand the story without looking at the pictures. Whereas the working class five year old, struggled with the detail and without the aid of the pictures the listener wouldn’t have understood what was happening.


Bernstein stated that the restrictive speech code would lead to jobs which have more of a manual input and are generally at the lower end of the pay scales. Elaborated speech code gives a person greater access to careers requiring greater verbal dexterity and almost certainly a higher pay scale combined with career progression.


According to Bernstein, the education system in the UK uses elaborated speech patterns during lessons and this places working class children at an immediate disadvantage making them maybe feel threatened and intimidated.


Harold Rosen (1974) attacked Bernstein’s theories stating that they were vague and that sometimes he refers only about the lower working class instead of the working class as a totality. He says that there is a lack of evidence in the family infrastructure today which can acknowledge these arguments. He says that Bernstein’s theories are nothing but a myth.


Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex