Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Its Grammatikal, Innit?

Yesterday on my Twitter feed I created a bit of a stir when I tweeted this...

Why is it that so many people in their twenties have v little understanding of English grammar or basic sentence construction? Aaaaaaagh.

This provoked a massive reaction. Most people agreed with me but others - wait for it - blamed it on Conservative education policies, conveniently ignoring the fact that most people in their 20s would have spent their entire secondary school careers educated under Labour.

It is far more complicated than that. Before i go on, here are some of the tweets which responded to mine...
ssap9rulesok: @iaindale because teachers have betrayed kids by telling them it's not important. And they all wonder why they end up in call centres...

CllrLukeEllis: @iaindale "why are so many people in their 20's bad at English?" maybe coz Thatcher uzed to run our skools Ian. Remymber ? Nicked our milk2

allpointsnorth: @iaindale every generation thinks they was taught betterer than the last won. Fact of live.

AJRyland: @iaindale Coz dey is 2 kool, init doe? Gosh, I feel dirty now... One of the few 20-somethings who can use our language!

DJLazarus: @iaindale I can answer that in four words, mate. "New Labour's Education Philosophy." I try my best to not let it depress me!

penn48: @iaindale Bring back Latin into the school curriculum: that'll sort them out.

douglasmclellan: @iaindale Because we were not taught it at school. I am 33 and in a reasonable job. I could not even tell you what a noun, verb, etc. is.

eddiethomas: @iaindale It's quite extraordinary, isn't it? It's frighteningly common amongst university graduates, too.

AdamGrayTweets: @iaindale Thay ain't got no edukashon; dat.s wy! Butt it aint know beter wiv Thatcher's childrens jeneration, innit?


I do think that people in this country suffer from an appalling lack of competence in basic English grammar. In other European countries grammar is still taught. But our education system frowns on anything so regimented. It's "unprogressive", apparently.

I'm not saying my grammar is perfect - and no doubt people in the comments will find fault with something I have written in this blogpost - but I do know what a noun or a verb is. I ought to. I studied linguistics for my degree (something I would not recommend to anyone). However, the main reason I have more than a basic understanding of English grammar is that I learnt German at school. That may sound odd, but if you don't learn or understand German grammar it is incredibly difficult to speak the language properly, and if you understand German grammar it then gives you a good understanding of English grammar. The same goes for French.

The fact that the teaching of foreign languages has declined by about 50% over the last ten years has undoubtedly had a knock on effect. If kids aren't learning languages, they're not learning grammar.

The fact that language learning in this country has declined in such a way ought to be seen as a national disgrace and a national embarrassment. Just because most other people now speak English is no excuse to ignore the need to learn other people's languages.

There is one way in which politicians of both parties are to blame for the fact that kids leave school without a basic grasp of written English. They have allowed the so-called "progressive" educationalists to retain their vice like grip on how English is taught in schools. These "progressives" have overseen a decline in standards in many subjects, not just English, but it's in the written word where it becomes apparent. Students are given 'A' grades even when their work contains large numbers of basic grammatical errors. It's as if basic sentence construction doesn't matter anymore. Or that putting an apostrophe in the wrong place is OK.

Everyone can be forgiven the odd error. I'm sure Dickens and Shakespeare didn't get it right all the time, but when high grades are awarded for work which contains errors in every paragraph, surely we should question that.

I'd love to see a politician really get to grips with this issue and take on the educationalists who believe that it is fine to write grammatically incoherent sentences.

So to Michael Gove, Nick Gibb and Sarah Teather, I ask this. Are you up for the challenge?

NB: The errors in the title are deliberate, before anyone asks...

42 comments:

Matthew Dear said...

I also learned everything I know about English grammar from learning a foreign language.

It was not taught in English lessons, and it was only when my French teachers explained what, for example, the perfect, imperfect, and pluperfect tenses were that I was able to understand the concept by crossing it over into my understanding of English.

It markedly improved the consistency of my English, for which I am grateful! Two stops short of Dagenham.

Tom said...

Another aspect of the issue is that people type on computers these days whereas only fifteen years ago these things were either handwritten or done on a typewriter. Certainly I often find myself typing entire sentences without looking at the screen. Though I normally have a pretty good grasp of spelling and grammar there was an embarrassing typo on my CV for rather too long...

Simon Gardner said...

“Loose” instead of “lose”. Aaaaaaaaargh

Simon Gardner said...

Take a look at the Government's “Your Freedom” audience participation web site if you want to see how little people care about spelling, grammar or even their presentation despite seeking supposedly to persuade.

JMB said...

It's quite noticeable how often people who came to this country either not speaking English, or with little English, can end up speaking far better English than people born here. Just listen to Katie Melua when she is interviewed. She came to the UK not speaking English then lived in Belfast for some years, she can have a Belfast accent if she wants but usually speaks some of the clearest English you are likely to hear.

Lexander said...

Even after a lifetime of writing I still frequently check out grammar via the invaluable Internet. There is no excuse for anybody not understanding basic grammar. It should, of course, be a compulsory subject in our education system.

fyoc said...

I received a letter the other day written in the most appalling way. Grammatical errors in their tens and very badly constructed sentences. The age of the writer? Late 50's. It's not just the younger generation. There are poorly educated older people too!

The Grim Reaper said...

Anyone with a Facebook account can testify to this incredibly irritating modern phenomenon. Half of people's submissions are written in some form of unintelligible, illegible English that I can't understand at all. Add to that the number that SEEM TO TYPE IN CAPITAL LETTERS ALL THE TIME, people who don't know how to use commas and full stops, the many who don't have a clue what the apostrophe is for and it gets pretty bad.

The one thing I hate even more is people who finish their sentences with repeated exclamation marks like this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think it looks downright bloody stupid myself.

I wasn't taught much about grammar at school, but I took the initiative and taught myself that. A certain Mr Iain Dale would not have got to where he is today - publishing giant and media whore that he is - if he couldn't write properly. Same applies to everyone else.

Blackacre said...

Totally agree and my experience was the same with French (at which I was hopeless) being the cause of my understanding of grammar. And as a 40something, this is not a new problem. I hope the educationalists can find a way through it.

Andrew Denny said...

I had my last English lesson when I was about 12 years old, and my handwriting was so bad that people thought I was dyslexic.

I was nearly 30 before I even knew what 'split infinitive' meant, and I still probably couldn't find an adverb in a sentence.

And yet I still ended up as a PR copywriter, and I'm confident enough to know when the rules are simply 'wrong'.

For example I started the last sentence with 'and' (I know it's frowned-on) and I don't know what the grammatical term for this is, but it's still OK for getting my message across.

It's perfectly possible to be articulate without being able to parse a sentence - I'm living proof.

Elby the Beserk said...

The Boss of BT recently wrote that one in four of their job applicants are functionally illiterate.

There is a reason for learning grammar; just as one would not send out a bricklayer who has no idea how to stick one brick to another, neither should one send out a human being who has no idea how to construct an intelligible statement.

Indeed, it might be construed to be an act of cruelty.

Grammar, punctuation and spelling must be at the core of teaching of the English language. Again, if you have no idea of how to put a sentence together that says what you mean you might as well be talking gibberish.

Labour has butt-fucked the education system thoroughly; ideology rather than what helps a child become a free and responsible adult, is what drives Labour's education agenda. As a result of their total de-skilling of a generation, any economic recovery we might hope for will not happen.

FUBAR.

Balls should swing for what he has done to the education system.

bewick said...

I so remember my Mother, 50+ years ago, complaining that my grammar school was teaching me a "dead" language - Latin.
Although I didn't like Latin much it certainly came to stand me in good stead in sciences, French, and even English. I've even managed to "get by" in Italy and Germany with no previous knowledge of those languages.
My basic Latin made sure that I understood basic grammar.I agree with Matthew Dear that French grammar was better taught than English Grammar. That may possibly be because daily use of English, and interaction,meant that we all learned the correct way of expression without ever having to understand the parts of speech.
I say "meant" because I think the text and twitter revolution has further devalued spelling and grammar.
My pet hate in both written communications and speech is the use of "of" instead of "have". This has been happening for over 20 years, has progressed beyond "local dialect" because it now gets written with no comprehension that it is grammatical nonsense. It is used by even the most intelligent people. My son, who won a 1st in Engineering 20 years ago is guilty.

Douglas said...

I should point out that my entire school education took place from 1981-1994. All my primary eduction was under Thatcher and most secondary was under Major. So whatever education I got was delivered under Tory policies - including the fact that both my primary schools in Helensburgh and Dalgety Bay taught a number of year groups in portacabins!.

That said, your assertion about foreign languages being key is exactly correct. I did not realise the gaps in my understanding of the English language until I tried to learn French.

Also, Tom (comment at 12:25pm) is correct in that computers have both positive and negative influences in terms grammar and spelling.

If we want to fix grammar and spelling we should start with 'txt spk' and just shoot any educationalist that finds it acceptable.

killemallletgodsortemout said...

Just as scary are the number of White kids who are doing their very best to speak like black kids, innit, tho? Nar mean, blud?

Unsworth said...

It's the spelling and the abuse of apostrophes which is so distracting. If things are not spelled correctly it may take several minutes to decipher the true meaning of what has been written.

Isn't the whole point of this debate that it is (or should be) incumbent on the speaker/writer to ensure that his/her utterances are easily intelligible? Frankly I'm often inclined to return badly written letters to their authors asking them to please explain precisely what they were trying to communicate.

Mervyn said...

Please can we have 'children'? Goats have 'kids'.

sociolinguist82 said...

I'm afraid the issues are far more complicated than is suggested by the rather stark terms in which you frame your points. I am a twenty-something lecturer in linguistics, a subject which I would heartily recommend people to study as one of the few academic disciplines that truly bridges the arts-science divide, and the 'grammar problem' is something which can't simply be laid at the doors of governments.

Governments do, however, provide policy frameworks and the panic of the Major government about the 'decline of Standard English' (something which as a former student of linguistics you should is just as much a socio-evaluative object as a clearly identifiable variety) produced more hot air than tangible improvements in the teaching of language structure. Simply saying that it should be taught, as the National Curriculum does under the moniker 'Knowledge of Language', doesn't compensate for the fact that the teachers who were coming through the system hadn't been taught grammatical structure themselves. The PGCE simply doesn't have the time to go back to basics so KoL is something to which largely only lip service is paid.

The history of the decline of the teaching of grammatical structure in schools is a complicated one, with both governments and academics having a hand in it. As you probably know, Iain, the notion of universal grammar has, until recently, been the dominant paradigm in linguistic theory and it is perhaps the misapplication of ideas about first language acquisition to pedagogical matters that provided the framework in which explicit grammar teaching fell out of favour in both the teaching of first and subsequent languages.

Rest assured that the Linguistics Association of Great Britain is turning its attention to this problem and a current research project at UCL is examining this issue explicitly.

javelin said...

With a million young people unemployed politicians have failed to grasp that unemployment is no longer a laging indicator but a leading indicator.

Unemployment amongst the young has become a huge structural problem. Unemplyment is no longer a cyclical problem. Politicians have failed to grasp the new economy. In the US one in 4 young people are unemployed.

Jobs have been shifted out to India and China. Our job market is a bucket with a huge hole in it. New Labour have screwed the economy far more than politicians have accepted.

Bill Quango MP said...

Agree with Andrew Denny. I was taught properly. But its all so trivial.
The Grammar police like to pounce on a spelling error to try and defeat an argument.

"Tony Blairs a liar."

"Ha! You missed a pointless apostrophe. Therefore Tony Blair is not a liar. I win! I win!
And I feel superior for some unspecified reason."

I have a theory that the semicolon pedants are the same people as the cutlery fascists.

A spoon is held in the right hand, resting on the fingers and secured with the thumb and index finger. Food should be eaten off the side of the spoon; it should never be used at a right angle to the mouth.

Cutlery should be rested on the plate/bowl between bites, and placed together in the bottom-centre when you are finished.

Unsworth said...

@ Mervyn

Sally Bercow has 'three kiddies', apparently. That presents an interesting picture....

Prodicus said...

It's no mystery: the Gramscian long march, which has now completely subverted the most important institution of them all, the education establishment.

Read Toby Young's piece about the Institute of Education in this week's Spectator. The critical question is: who is teaching the teachers, and what are they teaching them? This question may never be spoken aloud because the education establishment howls it down with cosmically hypocritical shrieks of 'Politicising the education of our children! Appalling!'

An educated population which can think for itself and earn its own living spells disaster for the Marxoid Left which requires (and is successfully engineering) the massive, politically- and literally illiterate, state-dependent, compliant lumpen-proletariat it needs, to entrench itself in power.

The present government is seen as but a stage in history's inevitable march towards their utopia. The marxoid denizens of the educational establishment will not be dislodged without a bloody fight: they intend to see this government off. They await the restoration of Labour to government so that they can further their project with only the minimum of (electorally necessary) interference.

Gove's Free Schools policy is correctly perceived as a frontal attack on the education establishment. It is the only possible way, now, in which we can replace indoctrination with education, by giving parents the wherewithal simply to bypass the educational establishment. Naturally, 'educationists' will fight it with every weapon at their disposal. Their worst nightmare is for children to be educated and growing up to be free, thinking, independent subjects, as opposed to objects.

Richard said...

I can be quite specific about this. I was educated at a boys' grammar school and even there in the mid-60s the teachers (sorry, Masters) were starting to de-emphasis the teaching of grammar. I was not taught thoroughly, and it was through learning other languages that I learned the grammar of my own. Later I was an examiner in English Language for the NEA at GCSE level. In the moderation meetings, we were specifically told that, provided that the candidate's meaning was clear, we were not to penalise grammatical, punctuation or spelling errors. I could understand this in a subject (such as History) where the accuracy of expression is secondary to the subject matter, but this was Eng Lang, for God's sake.

You are correct - it's not the government's fault as such; it's the stranglehold that the teaching establishment has over the training and ongoing support of teachers. As a Head of English in a large comprehensive, it would have been unthinkable to suggest any kind of 'back to basics' approach. Professional suicide.

Unsworth said...

"has been the dominant paradigm in linguistic theory and it is perhaps the misapplication of ideas about first language acquisition to pedagogical matters that provided the framework in which explicit grammar teaching fell out of favour in both the teaching of first and subsequent languages."

Anyone able to translate this for me? My godfather, Arthur Delbridge, would be entertained. KISS is no bad principle.

Jabba the Cat said...

The primary culprit in the fall of this countries education system is Shirley Williams, who in 1974 as Education Secretary in the then Labour government, started off the final decimation of the English education system with the 1976 Education Act that abolished grammar schools and that has culminated in the current lamentable state of affairs.

George said...

What we are seeing is the result of political interference in education that goes back to the introduction or imposition, delendant on your standpoint, of comprehensive education.
Since those heady days of Shirley Williams and her ilk, education has become a political football dominated by left wing thought and process. School children have been used as a scientific test bed for social re-engineering, whilst the educational establishment has been forced to adopt ever more compliant and complicit PC attitudes to adopt left wing thinking.
The result has been a concentration of effort on peripheral issues rather than core teaching. Matters have hardly been helped with the introduction of gang culture from the US and Jamaica on the one hand and Eastern Europe, which has been widely disseminated through the media.
Gang culture has been left to go unchecked, with the inevitable consequences of the loss of control, brought about by trendy thinking, that discipline was bad, and that young children should be allowed to express themselves freely. This simply accelerated the loss of control and breakdown in discipline.

It will be a long walk to turn this particular mess about. Indeed the attack on public schools with their record on discipline and educational records is all the more damning coming as it does from the Left with their failed educational expermentation.
Bring the 3 tier structure, of Grammars, Secondary Moderns and Technical Schools. Look to Germany and France, that seem to have no problem with early selection, or the existence of a private sector and a flourishing elite sector.

Ruth@VS said...

I agree with other commenters in that the decline of grammar has more to do with the educational establishment (who in turn influence government) than with governments of the day. At the age of 11 I had an English teacher who insisted on teaching us parts of speech, to the evident scorn of other teachers. After that year, little more grammar was taught. I picked up more from French, German and later Latin than I did in English lessons, and why should those teachers have to do basics such as this? But these days teachers don't even correct spelling, never mind grammatical mistakes. It is not uncommon to find 14 year olds misspelling 3 words in every sentence, and don't get me started on job applicants...

Cynic said...

For what it is worth, here is our experience.

When we moved to a new area with a deep red Labour council, we immediately noticed that our 7 year old's reading and writing suddenly seemed to be going backwards. We asked for a meeting with her school teacher.

As my wife pointed out that our daughter's spelling seemed to be deteriorating, the teacher carefully explained that she didn't 'teach' spelling. Modern educational theory had shown that this just didn't work. Instead it was best to just 'expose children to words and later the spellings and sentence structures would just emerge organically in their brains when they needed to spell a word'.

As I (quite literally) rolled my eyes to heaven, I noticed that many of the words on mobiles hanging around the room and on wall charts contained very basic spelling mistakes and alarm bells began to ring even louder.

We then asked for an urgent meeting with the Head Teacher. She was very sympathetic.

"I know what you are going to say about Miss X", she said, "she's very keen but she has very bad dyslexia and it affects both her English and Maths. We knew all about it as she did some of her teaching practice here and I warned the Governors not to appoint her, but they insisted that it was a disability issue and that she would cope as she was so 'committed'. I am sorry about this, but there is literally nothing I can do now. She is causing chaos with the staff as well as the pupils, as at times she cannot even parse a sentence correctly, so she misunderstands basic instructions. I have told the Governors but they wont admit now they have made a mistake. I have had enough. I have applied for early retirement and I leave in July."

We could have then gone to the Governors but somehow I didn't think that would work. The month before I had met the daughter of the Chair of Governors who was a trainee primary school teacher. In conversation it emerged that she was on an access course into teaching having dropped out of school at 16 with no qualifications at all. After 4 years working in Woolworths her mother had suggested teaching as a career so she was now on her course and in another 18 months would emerge fully qualified into the classroom.

I asked did she find it hard to do the course, never having done exams before. "Naw", she said. "It's all continuous assessment. Anyway, I am a socialist and I don't believe in exams. They are elitist"

In the end we just moved our daughter to a fee paying school where they spent a year just getting her back to where she had been before. She just graduated this year with a First in Law from a top UK Law School. We are delighted but I still wonder at all the lost potential in that classroom and all the other classrooms.

Cynic said...

For what it is worth, here is our experience.

When we moved to a new area with a deep red Labour council, we immediately noticed that our 7 year old's reading and writing suddenly seemed to be going backwards. We asked for a meeting with her school teacher.

As my wife pointed out that our daughter's spelling seemed to be deteriorating, the teacher carefully explained that she didn't 'teach' spelling. Modern educational theory had shown that this just didn't work. Instead it was best to just 'expose children to words and later the spellings and sentence structures would just emerge organically in their brains when they needed to spell a word'.

As I (quite literally) rolled my eyes to heaven, I noticed that many of the words on mobiles hanging around the room and on wall charts contained very basic spelling mistakes and alarm bells began to ring even louder.

We then asked for an urgent meeting with the Head Teacher. She was very sympathetic.

"I know what you are going to say about Miss X", she said, "she's very keen but she has very bad dyslexia and it affects both her English and Maths. We knew all about it as she did some of her teaching practice here and I warned the Governors not to appoint her, but they insisted that it was a disability issue and that she would cope as she was so 'committed'. I am sorry about this, but there is literally nothing I can do now. She is causing chaos with the staff as well as the pupils, as at times she cannot even parse a sentence correctly, so she misunderstands basic instructions. I have told the Governors but they wont admit now they have made a mistake. I have had enough. I have applied for early retirement and I leave in July."

We could have then gone to the Governors but the month before I had met the daughter of the Chair of Governors who was a trainee primary school teacher. She was on an access course into teaching having dropped out of school at 16 with no qualifications at all. After 4 years in Woolworths her mother had suggested teaching as a career so she was now on her course.

I asked did she find it hard to do the course, never having done exams before. "Naw", she said. "It's all continuous assessment. Anyway, I am a socialist and I don't believe in exams. They are elitist"

In the end we just moved our daughter to a fee paying school where they spent a year just getting her back to where she had been before. She just graduated this year with a First in Law from a top UK Law School. We are delighted but I still wonder at all the lost potential in that classroom and all the other classrooms.

Indy said...

George says:

"What we are seeing is the result of political interference in education that goes back to the introduction or imposition, delendant on your standpoint, of comprehensive education."

I don't think so.

What we are seeing is the result of the position of English as the dominant language in the developed - and possibly also undeveloped - world.

English no longer belongs to English people and trying to impose arbitrary rules of grammar on future generations would be a completely pointless activity. You are talking about a language which is written, read, spoken and sung in a thousand different ways and is instantly communicable by thousands of different mediums and channels. No-one can control that or even say with any authority what is correct or incorrect.

I am no linguist but it occurs to me that the global dominance of the English language may not just be a reflection of English imperialism. It could also be the case that English is easier than other languages precisely because people don't bother so much about grammar. If most English speakers were as precious about the rules of grammar as speakers of other languages would English be the lingua franca of our day?

Manfarang said...

"most of the rules of grammar have no real justification and there is no serious reason condemning the errors they prescribe."Frank Palmer

It was in 1066 the rot set in.Let todays new generation learn West Anglo-Saxon and leave the creole that is called English to the rest of the world.

Ray said...

When used as a personal pronoun the letter "i" is capitalised, healer fix thyself

Armchair said...

Interestingly, the idiot who twittered as Cllr Luke Ellis can't even spell 'school' properly.

Just a couple of other points Luke, if you are reading. Thatcher took school milk away in the early 70s although she herself voted against it. And whilst we are at it, school milk was only ever given to children at school in WW2 to make sure that they got their ration. By 1970 the war had been ended for 25yrs and no child in this country was suffering from calcium deficiency.

Thatcher Thatcher Milk Snatcher is the rallying cry of brain dead moron

stessy35 said...

The education of our children should be aimed primarily at preparing them for adulthood. That involves equipping them with the knowledge and skills they will need.

This in includes being able to express themselves coherently and accurately, not just orally, but also on screen or paper.

People make judgements (rightly or wrongly) on the way we present ourselves.

Ignorance is not bliss and we are doing our children no favours by allowing mistakes to go uncorrected for fear of damaging their self-esteem. It will be all the more damaged when, as adults, they continue to make basic errors. Most are more than capable of being able to adjust their style of speech and writing to the context.

The use of one's mother tongue is absorbed from the world around and so, arguably, grammar is better learned via a second, foreign language.

Yes, encourage independent thought and a sense of curiousity, but we also need to engender in them a senses of responsibility to do their best and not to wallow in mediocrity So let's help our children and not hinder them by giving them the tools and information to succeed, and praise genuine effort and achievement rather than validate the merest half-hearted attempts.

Wim The Dog said...

Years ago - it was the end of the 70s - a certain Grammar School in Northern Ireland had a sign in front of the school: "A...(name omitted to avoid embarassment) Grammer School". It stood for nearly two years before anybody noticed.

A former grammar school teacher of mine who witnessed at first hand the decline in standards in the three R's puts it down to the fact that "old-fashioned" skills like learning by rote (poetry, times tables etc.) are no longer taught at primary school, resulting in difficulty with learning by pattern drill, or the inablity to connect sound and spelling, or recognise and apply sentence patterns (ie forms of grammar). This, together with a lowering of standards in language learning at school, has created the situation at university whereby people studying foreign languages have, in many cases to be taught the basics first. That has changed since our UEA days, Iain.

Indy said...

Stessy35 do you think that in fifty or a hundred years time people will still be writing (or reading) on paper?

In the future it seems to me to be quite likely that the printed word will have become archaic. Our children and grandchildren will communicate in new ways (to quote the mobile phone advert).

The rules of spelling and grammar will surely change accordingly. Consistency in spelling came about - surely - because of the advent of the printing press. As the printed word became the primary means of communication consistency in the spelling of words became the norm. Prior to that there were very few rules.

Iain made a reference in his post to Shakespeare making the odd error. By our standards he made more than the odd error. His spelling was so inconsistent that he could not even spell his own name consistently. But it didn't matter, did it?

The function of language is to communicate. Children should be given the skills to commumicate clearly and to understand and evaluate the information around them. I have no argument about that, I just think we need to recognise that we are going through a transitionary period, powered by technological advances, which is changing the way we communicate quite radically.

It's not a Marxist plot. If anything is to blame it is capitalism because it's capitalism driving the growth of the mobile technologies which are changing the way young people express themselves. I understand where people are coming from - I also find it startling when someone uses the number 4 instead of the word 'for' or uses the letter 'u' instead of the word 'you.' But that's probably going to become the norm and we might as well accept it because it can't be stopped.

Bishop Brennan said...

Contrary to the naysayers, failings in grammar are actually making it difficult for me to understand what people are saying and / or mean. That's the whole point of grammar!

Although in my 30s (forgive me, but I must say this: not 30's!), I was fortunate to be educated in a very old-fashioned (state) grammar school, with grammar lessons and Latin. These have helped me pick up Portuguese and Spanish in later life.

Even though I work in an environment which requires educated people - many of them Oxbridge graduates - I cannot believe how bad the average piece of written work has become. It's [Anglo-Saxon expletive!] appalling! And if these are the standards of the best, I dread to think how bad it is to try to decipher the writings of the average chav...

My wife, who was born overseas and works in schools here, thinks there is a simple solution: don't allow pupils to progress to the next class until they have mastered the lessons from their current level. I suspect she is right - although I can see there being 30 year olds at primary school if we were to implement it!

Manfarang said...

Bishop Brennan
It's a modern expletive.
The words were probably acceptable
in Anglo-Saxon times,hence their survival in modern English.

stessy35 said...

Indy - it matters not whether words are spoken, handwritten or typed; the format is irrelevant. What matters is clarity of communication and in English, unlike many other languages, word order and punctuation really do matter. In addition there are many homophones in the Englsih language and differentiation really does matter in many instances.

I should not like my accountant to make numerical errors; equally, I would be very afraid if my lawyer were not able to draw up a legal document which was clear, binding and not open to interpretation - ie in a standard form. How he or she may speak in an informal context is a different issue; what matters is the ability to adapt one's form of communication to the context.

What really annoys me is the fact that as a society in the UK, we seem to find it acceptable to descend to the lowest common (and mediocre) denominator, rather than encourage our children to do the best they possibly can.

Max Atkinson said...

You've really got me going on this one, Iain, but my rant was far too long to enter as a comment. So I've put it on my blog at http://su.pr/2w5L66 under the title 'The rise of Chomsky and the fall of grammar'.

Indy said...

Stessy35 I agree that what matters is clarity of communication and the ability to adapt one's form of communication to the context.

Though, to use your example, the primary skill of a lawyer is surely the capacity to communicate in a way which is completely unintelligible to the average person.

That is why they can charge us large amounts of money for selling our houses, drawing up our wills and divorcing us. Otherwise we might just do all of those things for ourselves without having to pay a lawyer at all. And then where would we be?

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I am old enough to have properly taught grammar in four languages - English, French, German, and Latin.

I don't know whether anyone would learn much English, or any other, grammar from being taught German in modern British state schools.

My only recent experience comes from attending a local authority evening class in Italian. After weeks spent learning (by rote) various fairly useful tourist phrases and sentences, the older amongst the class were practically screaming at the nice young lady teacher to give us the grammar, the parts of the verbs, the rules about the sentence structures, so that we could generalise from these specifics and start to learn the language properly.

All we got was "no, languages aren't taught like that any more".

She was a good colloquial, semi-native Italian speaker, but I wonder if she even knew herself what it was we wanted her to teach us.

I imagine all foreign language teaching under NuLab and its clients is similarly defective.

But I might be mistaken.

The King of Wrong said...

@Unsworth:
"[people] incorrectly think that you don't need to know the grammar of your native language to speak it, so they don't teach grammar"
This has long been the case for English - unlike French or German - and until Labour recently abolished the requirement to learn a foreign language post-14 most of us learned the basics of grammar in those subjects.

@Indy:
That's relativist claptrap and you know it. When English is not comprehensible to an English speaker, it's not English. It may be that 'Panglish' becomes the dominant language in the world, starting as a pidgin of English words and lowest-common-denominator grammar and later becoming Creolised into a new natural language... but that's not English and the process cannot be accelerated or supported by educationalists. Even native-Panglish speakers will need to have some understanding of standard English, due to the immense extant corpus from the last century, and that requires teaching not fantasies of "linguistic evolution" utopia.

(w/v = "nousn"... dyslexic nouns? ;))