Future English & Future Britain

The state of education across the world

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 10 Jun 2013, 09:46

p.s. I was never taught any grammar at all in school. I distinctly remember we were never taught about subjects, objects, verbs, nouns or any of that. I wonder if it is on the curriculum yet? Maybe too "prescriptive" in progressive schools.

I did a year of part time linguistics while studying philosophy, but that was taught by a feminist who generally subscribed to the "there are no rules" fashion and spoke disparagingly of people like Fowler. I think I just watched, somewhat bewildered. These days I'd have the confidence to call her out on that nonsense.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 10 Jun 2013, 14:30

Gavin wrote:p.s. I was never taught any grammar at all in school. I distinctly remember we were never taught about subjects, objects, verbs, nouns or any of that.

I was taught nouns and verbs etc. (the types of words) but nothing about subjects, objects, instruments and so on, let alone subjunctives and relative clauses and all the rest of it. Nothing at all, even though I could easily have handled it and would have found it very useful.

Is it not staggering that the school system is geared towards the mediocre and the brighter ones just have to be leveled downwards like this? Oh but that's progress, isn't it.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Nathan » 10 Jun 2013, 15:50

I went to a so-called 'grammar school', though I honestly don't remember learning any English grammar at all, though my memory might be wrong. I got my understanding of the parts of speech almost entirely from learning foreign languages, particularly Latin, which you simply cannot get anywhere in without knowing your subjects from your objects, etc.

In my mind, by far the best era for prose style and well-crafted sentences was the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, and I think this wouldn't have been possible were it not for the fact that more or less anybody writing then will have had a very solid linguistic grounding in classical languages.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 10 Jun 2013, 19:00

Here's another of my bugbears. It's a difficult one to describe (probably even if I did know the syntactical terminology) so I'll simply provide this example which I just stumbled upon:
By using the term it is patronising to people.

I see this quite often. The writer mixes two ways of writing and ends up with redundant, muddy complexity. The two ways are:
By using the term, he is being patronising to people.

It is patronising to people to use the term.

And the writer ends up with:
By using the term it is patronising to people.

He'd have been better writing:
Using the term is patronising to people.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Paul » 11 Jun 2013, 01:34

For those who went to school but weren't taught any grammar, then what did the subject 'English Language' entail?

Comprehension maybe, though I remember that as a term, or rather discipline, that was used more (or exclusively) at primary school. I don't recall that being a 'module' (nice, modern word there) at grammar school. Maybe I've just forgotten, though I doubt it.

Spelling and punctuation is ok but in fact I don't remember being taught much spelling. Probably spelling was just corrected where necessary (in homework or written compositions), but everyone was pretty much expected to be able to spell virtually all words in their own (expanding) vocabulary. I don't recall anyone who couldn't spell words well, and certainly not any atrocious spellers. I can't recall any lengthy sessions of spelling tuition on the blackboard. Foreign languages were another matter of course.

Written compositions were on the menu, though I cannot recall either what the subjects might have been. I do know that some essay writing was part of the English Language O level, but I can't remember exactly what I wrote about.

But I certainly remember grammar - reams of it and it was crammed into the first three years. Nouns, proper nouns and verbs were already known however. They were drummed into us in primary school. Grammar school involved conjugation, various pronouns, past participles and the rest.

There was no Shakespeare or any other writer that we studied in English Language. That was a wholly separate subject and separate O level - English Literature.

I didn't really like languages much - except for English, which could however seem drab sometimes - on rainy autumn days when wrestling with grammar. But I have always liked reading and have always been fond of Olde English and semi-archaic forms and so I did appreciate grammar somewhat. I thought Shakespeare was brilliant because of the quaint and archaic words as much as the plot or story.

Latin blew my mind a little. Same for everyone really, aged twelve. I wish I could have liked it, and languages in general because I could see how marvellous it would be to be proficient in such a complex language. Its archaic nature makes it all the more appealing. But I simply couldn't get enthusiastic enough. Maths and science interested me more. And history of course - my favourite subject.

One more thing: we were told - never begin a sentence with the word 'and'.

I now do it a lot. But it still causes me to hesitate when I do so. It's almost like it's rude, or bad form or 'just not cricket'. But in fact I will admit I've seen it on this forum and that from the beginning and so I've thought....... it must be ok!

Or at least - it must be ok these days!
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 11 Jun 2013, 09:45

We weren't taught "English Language" at all, Paul. Maybe in primary school, but nothing to do with the formalities. I expect such training has been completely eliminated now since it would be considered too prescriptive, though this is when it most needed with our massive influx of immigrants.

I too am reluctant to start sentences with, what I gathered from my own reading, are conjunctions, but like you I've loosened up on that rule a little bit. I think language does change, but nothing should be supported that renders it less precise.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 11 Jun 2013, 10:00

Nathan wrote:I got my understanding of the parts of speech almost entirely from learning foreign languages, particularly Latin, which you simply cannot get anywhere in without knowing your subjects from your objects, etc.


In my experience, that's the case for most students these days. Certainly the ones I teach are never familiar with terms like past participle, gerund, clause etc. until they crop up in my Latin/French classes. They clearly never deal with anything like that in their English classes (I once asked a class of thirty kids what sorts of things they did learn in English, and after a pregnant pause one of them proffered "erm...racism?").
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 12 Jun 2013, 13:01

And on the topic of "Future English", one of our local academic nitwits has come up with a brilliant idea.

You really wonder what on earth people like that would do for a living if the featherbed of modern humanities academia didn't exist...
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 13 Jun 2013, 02:15

Mike: I had to attend a professional development session once led by a Taiwanese professor who went on about the concept of English being a global language and global ownership and all the rest of it. Many of us were a fairly hostile group (probably because we didn't want to be there on a Saturday or Sunday). Someone (it might have been me, but maybe not) basically said a little more diplomatically than this (and why do I hear Mark Steyn's voice and not the English guy from another school who probably said it?), "Oh yeah, so if English is a global language owned by everybody, why can't you conjugate a verb correctly?" Ouch! The professor couldn't get out of the session fast enough. The thing about Taiwanese professors too is they're used to a very passive audience that wouldn't dare question authority. Nice try. Thanks for coming. See you next year!
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Andreas » 13 Jun 2013, 21:32

On the idea of "renaming English":

Some years ago, on vacation in Venice, I happened to walk past one of the buildings of the university. According to the sign at the entrance, it housed a number of departments/faculties of foreign languages, including "postcolonial English" ("inglese postcoloniale").
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 09 Jul 2013, 00:29

I just had to report this staggering use of bad English, by somebody involved in educating children:
Me and Charlotte was Participating at an Art Festival at Heston Community School last saturday. The Festival theme is letterform. We were working with couple of 6 form students from the school, and our ideas were mostly related to photography therefore we decided to do a photo-booth. Me and Charlotte were in charge with the Human Alphabet workshop.

This were us as examples of letterforms.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Charlie » 09 Jul 2013, 06:05

If a foreign student wrote like that for the First Certificate in English (an intermediate language exam), he would fail.

I've noticed that in the UK, no one distinguishes between "there is" and "there are" any more. Now only "there's" exists - for everything.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Nathan » 02 Aug 2013, 17:00

Another professor who doesn't believe that children need to be taught spelling, grammar and punctuation:

Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, said good spelling and grammar was necessary “maybe a hundred years ago” but "not right now".

He insisted that children should be encouraged to express themselves in a number of different ways – including using mobile phone text messaging – rather than relying on established linguistic rules.


He justifies his opinions by claiming that if children think SMS language is superior, who does somebody like a professor think he is to claim he knows any better than they do?

Sugada Mitra wrote:But we have perhaps a mistaken notion that the way in which we write is the right way and that the way in which young people write through their SMS texting language is not the right way.

If there is a generation who believe that SMS language is a better way of expressing emotion than our way, then are we absolutely sure that they are making a mistake and we are not?


This kind of thing makes me grateful to be old enough to no longer be implicated in the "young people" category. I know that at absolutely any stage in my life I would have found the assumption that I believed SMS language to be superior to the refined prose and finely-crafted sentences of most writers from a hundred years ago, which can only come from a thorough linguistic training, both in English and in other languages to be utterly patronising and insulting.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 02 Aug 2013, 22:50

It's a pity there isn't a way to poll highly-educated and well-revered British academics to find out how many of them do think that standards of English matter.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 03 Aug 2013, 05:37

I think many would. It's a bit like looking at people who are pro-third world immigration. On the one hand, if they don't live next to it, you know they're full of nonsense. On the other hand, if they do, you know they'll get their comeuppance. I suspect with the whole language debate that academics either send their kids to good schools and would be mortified if their children actually followed their advice. Some may make social experiments of their kids. May they live long enough to see their own kids working at KFC.

I think a lot of what liberal elites go on about is hypocritical status posturing. They want to be seen to be good people, nice to any "disadvantaged" group, whilst simultaneously having absolutely nothing to do with such people or their cultures.

My line of attack on such people these days would simply be to ask why they don't write in SMS style themselves and then attack whatever their response was as "conservative", "elitist" or the like. Basically, force cognitive dissonance on them and make them choose between looking like an idiot who can't read and write (because whilst they would claim otherwise, within their social circle, correct English would be tacitly required) or accidentally outing their own elitism.

More and more I think that when dealing with these kinds of people, you can't take a rational approach. You have to drive a wedge into their irrational mindset and hit them at their level of status posturing. They're not actually concerned about truth, but social position.
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