Sunday, September 18, 2005

Joy-riding a Porsche

There are so many language stories running in the papers this week that I'm hard pushed to choose. But because it never fails to get my goat, let's go with the never-ending story of how appalling the youth of today is. News from the report by the Edexcel Chief Examiner for GCSE English that young people don't know how to write properly. Far too many shoudas, ain'ts, m8s, and uncapitalised first person pronouns. It's the age old epic battle between written and spoken forms of the language, between precriptive accounts of what is 'proper' and descriptive accounts of what is 'real' language use. But what I particularly like is the quotation from the chief examiner's report:

"Many concerns were expressed by examiners about elementary errors, often appearing in the work of apparently able candidates"

Hmmm, so, a few tell-tale signs there, then, about which side of the fence the examiner's sitting on. After all, one man's "elementary errors" are another man's evidence of dynamic language change amongst young people reflecting the far freer and more diverse contexts in which their language use takes place as a result of global communications technologies. Okay, okay, so they shoulda (oops, that's me stripped of my O level English...) done the honourable thing in there (their goes my A Level) GCSE exam, but if i (now they've binned my degree certificate) don't capitalise my first person pronoun does that make me any less intelligent?! Am I suddenly only "apparently" intelligent?! Well, "apparently" so if you were to believe this report...

This is all part of the public discourse about language that equates the ability to use a certain set of language forms with intelligence, godliness, cleanliness and assorted other moral virtues. Which reminds me of Norman Tebbit, a former Conservative MP, who once rather famously said,

"If you allow standards to slip to the stage where good English is no better than bad English, where people turn up filthy to school...all these things tend to cause people to have no standards at all, and once you lose standards then there's no imperative to stay out of crime."

Well, excuse me while I go joy-ride a Porsche, but formal prose is just one variety with one set of language conventions. Yes, we should all learn to use that, and I have no objection to GCSE testing it, but it really ain't the be-all and end-all of sophisticated and intelligent communication.
GCSE English pupils shoulda done better, say examiners

And in other news, check out the research into Scots (hmm, I thought we'd decided that was a language now, not a dialect...) that also throws a light on Child Language Acquisition and how vernacular languages are transmitted.

And because I can't resist a George Bush language story, check out the leak about the leak and what graphological analysis has to say about it all.


Post a Comment

<< Home