Tag Archives: Ruby_Payne

Understanding Poverty: Language

Chapter 2, The Role of Language and Story, of A Framework for Understanding Poverty talks about the language that we use and the distinctions between classes as it relates to language. They talk about 5 types of language (Frozen, Formal, Consultative, Casual, Intimate) of which I’d like to discuss two.A Framework for Understanding Poverty
Formal is the language we commonly use in school and work settings. Specific word choice is important, as well as complete sentences. I remember being so annoyed in school when teacher’s asked us to write in complete sentences which really just meant rewording the question to include the answer. At the same time it was very helpful to me learning and practicing the formal register.
Casual register is used between friends and is based on a small vocabulary (400-800 words). Complete sentences are unimportant and non-verbals are very important. Most people use casual register on a daily basis. Whether it be in their home or amongst friends most people from any class can use and understand casual register. Unlike formal register, casual register often differs from group to group.
How does this relate to poverty? The ability to use formal register is a hidden rule of middle class. Those in poverty often do not understand the importance of using formal register. Think about the implications this has for job interviews. The difference between these types of speech and ones ability to switch between them has huge implications for your ability to move freely and successfully through different parts of society.

A working definition of Poverty

I’ve recently started reading the book A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne. I’d highly recommend it to anyone (but particularly those who work with or live in poverty situations).
I’ll be posting a lot of my thoughts on what I read in the book over the next few days or weeks (it helps me to process information). Today, I want to talk about a definition for poverty.
Commonly when we talk about poverty we usually focus on finances. The national poverty line is measured solely on the income of an individual or family and takes nothing else into account. The first thing Dr. Payne does in her book is lays out a working definition of poverty: “The extent to which an individual does without resources.” This is a clear and simple definition which she goes on to further explain by defining resources as the following:

Financial: Having the money to purchase good and services.

Emotional: Being able to choose and control emotional responses, particularly to negative situations, without engaging in self-destructive behavior.

Mental: Having the mental abilities and acquired skills (reading, writing, computing) to deal with daily life.

Spiritual: Believing in divine purpose and guidance.

Physical: Having the physical health and mobility.

Support Systems: Having friends, family and backup resources available to access in times of need. These are external resources.

Relationships/ Role Models: Having frequent access to adults who are appropriate, who are nurturing to the the child, and who do not engage in self-destructive behavior.

Knowledge of the Hidden Rules: Knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group.

Already, she has done such a crucial thing in expanding ones understanding of poverty and how it functions. I often point to the lack of support and relationships the poor have to help meet their needs. More specifically I usually point to the support structure that I have in place (family primarily) that would keep me from being out on the streets no matter what good or bad decisions I make.
Hidden rules are another section that speaks volumes to understanding the barriers one has to overcoming poverty. My dad works with people who are chronicly-unemployed and he talks about the need to teach some of the “hidden rules” of being and staying employed. These are things many take for granted and others simply never learned growing up.

This is an excellent book, and I got all that from just the first page!
Lot’s more to come.