English, but not as we know it

Share
Related Topics
JOHN PATTEN's proposals for the teaching of English define the 'Standard English' that all children are to be taught as 'grammatically correct English'. Parents, from the most to the least educated, with the exception of one group, probably agree with this definition and want their children to be taught Standard English.

The exception is the group of parents who are linguists. Modern linguists hold it as a basic tenet of their scientific study of language that there is no such thing as correct English, and, therefore, the statement 'Standard English is grammatically correct English' is at best meaningless and at worst prejudice.

Linguists would say that there is an endless variety of English: the type people use in Liverpool, the type we use for talking to babies, the type for science, for writing and so on. Linguists have held this view since the beginning of this century.

How, then, has it happened that almost the whole population believes, in many cases passionately, the flat-earth idea that there is one correct English? One reason is that for most people, other ways of speaking seem alien. Another is that we have believed for centuries that there is a correct English. A third is that language is as personal as the shape of someone's nose, and people do not take kindly to criticism of either. The main reason, however, is that linguists, while believing that English is variable, still write about grammar as if it were monolithic.

Open any grammar book and you will find scarcely any mention of the extraordinary variety in English grammar. Even well-known variations such as 'I done nothing' are excluded. Lay people will find nothing wrong with this because they 'know' that the only grammar is standard grammar. But linguists know that 'I done nothing' is part of English grammar and ought to figure in the grammar books.

That it does not means there is a hole in the knowledge of English grammar as presented to us by grammarians. In recent years teachers of English have been trying to get us all out of this grammatical hole. But the new syllabus will dump us right back in. The only solution is for the language experts to start filling this vacuum with knowledge about English in all its variety.

Then, teachers will have the means to stand up to prejudice and develop their pupils' home English to the point where it can be easily understood by speakers from other regions.

Pupils will learn to use English well and recognise when others use it well if teachers are allowed to show them how to make the best of their own English.

The writer teaches English as a second language.

(Photograph omitted)

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence