Gotter stop them glottal stops, awight?

Campaign/ good English

YORKSHIRE could be pitted against London or Lancashire against the West Midlands in competitions to decide who speaks the best English as part of a Government campaign to stop "communication by grunt".

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, declared war at last year's Tory party conference on the growth of slang among schoolchildren and particularly on "estuary English", a bastardised form of Cockney that is spreading across Britain. She said local slang should not be used in polite society and that grunts and slack language were impoverishing children.

Now, a think-tank convened by the Department of Education has come up with several ideas for putting Mrs Shephard's promise into action. The group includes Sir David English, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail, and Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, who attended a boys' grammar school in Surrey.

As well as "competitions between regions in the quality of spoken English", the group has proposed a new qualification in spoken English and a national survey of standards.

Only one of the 10 think-tank members has even a trace of a regional accent, let alone a dialect. Chrissie Maher of the Plain English Campaign, a self-confessed Scouser, said nothing more fruity than traces of the odd concealed plum emerged from the mouths of the group.

Ms Maher says she suspects the campaign is all about encouraging people to "speak posh".

"They said it wasn't about that: they said it was about raising standards of oral English. But I stuck out like a sore thumb - as a Scouser I don't think I would have a chance in these competitions. I think people tend to be impressed by very well-spoken people," she said.

Department of Education officials are now drawing up firm proposals for a permanent campaign to encourage better English and to hold back the advancing tide of glottal stops. It envisages something like the anti drink-drive campaign. A commercial agency might be appointed to help run the campaign, which could include television advertisements. According to minutes of a think-tank meeting, activities should be "unashamedly populist,". Plans for an annual "good English week" were among those rejected as "tired and familiar".

Mr Woodhead, enunciating as always with perfect clarity, said he thought spoken English was very important.

"I think this is a very interesting initiative. Clearly in taking it forward there has to be a great deal of careful thought," he said.

Leading article, page 26

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