Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.
 

The free forums are now under new ownership, a full announcement will be made shortly

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Things that don't fit anywhere else
TheRejectAmidHair

The rules of grammar

Since I have been away from this forum, there has been much discussion all over the place on the rules of grammar, and the concept of correctness. I've tried to contribute toi this debate myself - here.

The discussion seems to be between two opposing poles - a "prescriptive" pole that insists on rules, and a "descriptive" pole that insists that whatever is widely used is correct. There are many shades of grey in between.

Stephen Pinker has now enetered the fray it seems. I have not yet read his book, but there's a fine review of it in the New Yorker.

The last paragraph in particular is worth quoting:

Quote:
“Correct” usage is our translation tool. The written language isn’t supposed to eclipse the variety of American English, but it’s not meant to comprise the full range, either. It’s a lingua franca, based on clear and common rules: anybody who makes it to high school can learn to use the written language correctly and be broadly understood. When you write a letter to the White House, you don’t need to worry about making context calibrations—not grammatical ones, anyway—because the rules are there. Pinker’s insistence that written language loosen to reflect natural American idiom is parochial: there’s too wide a range of idiom to be captured in one style. Better that everybody speak his or her own forms, and then use “good” English, too. If ambitious writers work at the boundaries of the written language (as they should), then they ought do it from a path of mastery, not ignorance; broken rules carry no power if writers and readers don’t notice the transgressions. Proper usage shows us where the earth is, so that, when the time comes, we know what it means to fly.
Gino

I don't want to be pedantic but I think some proof reading before posting would not come amiss
Chibiabos83

Himadri's just contributing to the evolution of language, Gino - or his iPad is...
chris-l

I think I must be a bit odd, because I am much more exercised by poor use of spoken language, than by the written word. No doubt this is largely attributable to the fact that I have a degree of autonomy over what I choose to read, and exercise that choice to exclude books and newspapers that are likely not to pay due attention to proper grammar. I have no such control over the speech I have to listen to. There is of course, now, a considerable intermediate area, taken up by texting, social media etc, which to me, although they are 'written', seem to me to have more the characteristics of spoken language.

Some of the things that drive me mad are direct transfers from social media, others are very much 'youth speak', but both leave me irritated and questioning the intelligence of the speakers, even when, I know full well, they are bright. My teeth are set on edge whenever I hear 'I'm loving...', which I am pretty sure is a Twitter convention. Reported speech that consists entirely of "So I go ..., then she goes...and I go...", just makes me cringe.

Sorry for the rant! I find myself increasingly taking refuge in a good book, as conversation becomes more and more degraded into an endless series of cliches. But it is probably just me! In many ways, I rather hope it is!
Chibiabos83

The things you write about also exercise me, Chris. I'm sure 'I'm loving' predates Twitter. Isn't the McDonalds slogan 'I'm lovin' it'? Yeuch. I'm afraid in spite of my best efforts I sometimes open a conversation with 'So,' which is a youthy thing that seems to be infectious, but I can usually manage not to insert superfluous 'likes'. More than anything else what sets my teeth on edge is the ubiquitous 'I'm good' as an alternative to 'I'm well.' Will these things become common in the written word? If you're writing dialogue, perhaps, but they're not the kind of thing likely to crop up in novels very often. Not the novels I read, anyway.
TheRejectAmidHair

Not pedantic at all, Gino. Typos now corrected.
TheRejectAmidHair

A report in today's Times starts as follows:

Quote:
Acapulco airport was besieged by thousands of protesters yesterday who are furious about the horrific killings of 43 students whom (sic) they believe were abducted on the orders of a local mayor.


Leaving aside, if one can, the horrific nature of the story itself, I do not think this writing is acceptable. Not from the Latin America Correspondent of the Times.

Even if you choose what you want to read, sloppy English is everywhere, and hardly anyone seems to mind.
Sandraseahorse

I don't think you can blame the journalist as it might be a case of bad sub-editing.  There has been a lot in "Private Eye" about how newspapers are sacking their sub-editors and "out-sourcing" production (a term I hate) to people often far away from the editorial staff and with dubious experience.
Joe McWilliams

Himadri, I would appreciate it if you would indicate what you think is wrong with the Times bit.
TheRejectAmidHair

Yes, you're probably right, Sandra. But it's unacceptable. I don't care if language is changing, this is unacceptable.
TheRejectAmidHair

Joe McWilliams wrote:
Himadri, I would appreciate it if you would indicate what you think is wrong with the Times bit.


It should be "who" rather than "whom".

The relevant part of the sentence is:


"...students whom they believe were abducted...."

If you take out "they believe", which is effectively a parenthesis, we get:

"...students whom were abducted...."

And that's clearly wrong.

The subject always takes the nominative (I, she, he, who, they) and the object takes the accusative (me, her, him, whom, them). The subject does something; the object is the one to whom something is done. So, in the sentence "I helped her", "I" is the subject (since I did the helping) and "her" is the object (as she was the one being helped"). So "I helped her" is correct, and "me helped her" or "I helped she" isn't.

In the sentence in the Times, the students are actually the subject, not the object. I think this is where the subeditor got confused: since the abduction was being done to the students, it was assumed that the students must be the object. But the verb "were" is applied directly to the students, making them the subject rather than the object. So, for instance, you'd say "He was abducted" rather than "him was abducted".
Joe McWilliams

Thanks for taking the time to explain. I wish I could promise to make use of it, but it is so difficult at this age to learn new tricks, I find.
Caro

Quote:
More than anything else what sets my teeth on edge is the ubiquitous 'I'm good' as an alternative to 'I'm well.' Will these things become common in the written word
 Oh, dear, Gareth, I only ever use "I'm good" or possibly "Not bad" in answer to "How are you?"  "I'm well" would sound very formal to my ears.  

The review of Pinker's book caused a huge amount of discussion on a Word of Mouth board I go to - it apparently must have misquoted some use of shall or will.  176 posts later there has been some resolution of how Shakespeare used different forms of it.  This is the sort of thing:
The difference between deontic shall and volitional will is, for the most part, completely unsystematic. The only context where they are in contrast is quite narrowly defined:

1. There is a dialogue situation.
2. The utterances containing will/shall are addressed from one speaker to the other. (Of course, 'the other' may be a silent addressee or addresses)
3. The potential actions referred to in the will/shall utterances are to be performed by one of the speakers. (Again, allowing for the possibility of a silent addressee.)
4. The subject of the clause using will/shall is I or we (no other First Person subject such as she and I) or is you or contains you (you and John, you people, all of you etc)

In such dyadic discourse, there is a systematic difference (in many but not all dialects) between

..............deontic ....Shall I? Shall we?..........and ..............futurity ....Will I? Will we?

This distinction is widely observed by all speakers of a given dialect

..............deontic....You shall..........................and..............futurity ....You will

This distinction is observed by the minority of speakers who have deontic you shall in their repertoire. It's worthy of note because if there is a distinction the this it it; nobody in present-day English uses you shall for futurity.

Prescriptive grammarians claim that there is a distinction between

..............futurity ....I shall, We shall..............and ..............volition ....I will, We will

The most that can be said is that some speakers try to make this distinction all or some of the time. Some succeed, some fail. Some succeed when composing prose. Some don't even try except when composing formal prose. But to recognise this as a sporadic productive distinction is not to say that it is understood by their addressees.

This is because a huge number of speakers and writers use futurity I/we will. And even those who use futurity I/we shall still understand those who use will.

None of this applies to third-person subjects or to first person subjects other than I and we.


I understand hardly any of it, never having remembered even the most basic ideas of when to use will and shall. I use whichever comes to me, and no one has ever picked me up on it, so I presume it just doesn't matter to people.  New Zealand people anyway.  (Unlike 'less/fewer' which I hear people rudely correcting others for their 'misuse' of.)
Chibiabos83

If it comes to that, I don't think I'd use 'I'm well' myself. 'Very well', 'I'm fine', 'Not bad', certainly, and all acceptable. But in my book 'I'm good' denotes behaviour rather than state of health. Still, I've probably committed a gross solecism by beginning a sentence with but. You can't win with this language.
Caro

Well, I am good, Gareth.  Sadly and boringly so, I'm afraid.
Quote:

Still, I've probably committed a gross solecism by beginning a sentence with but.
Only if you adhere to rules imposed that have little significance in actual writing or speech.  You've ended one here too!  I looked at what I wrote and did think the preposition at the end of one sentence did make it all sound a rather ugly construction.  The last bit in brackets ending with 'misuse of'.  But sticking the 'of' at the front would have sounded very odd indeed.
Apple

I have read through this discussion and have decided to stay quiet, as I am guilty of a lot of the grammar errors described. I did wonder though, what about local idiosyncrasies and dialects which provide a number of differences which do not play ball with grammar rules?  We have imported a number of phrases from the US which have taken root in the language and been accepted and have flourished.
TheRejectAmidHair

There have always been local dialects and variants, and that’s fine. If used well, they can be very expressive, and aesthetically pleasing. Creative writers, or writers who wish to use language constructively, are entirely free to use local variants, or to be as ungrammatical as they choose, in order to pursue their ends.

But that doesn’t mean that standard rules of grammar are irrelevant: if we all speak and write only in our own dialect, we would not be able, beyond a point, to communicate with each other. Much of writing – most of it, I’d guess – serves a utilitarian purpose: medical reports, legal documents, journalism, school reports, software specifications, etc. etc. In these instances, the point is not to be creative with language, but to write clearly and accurately in such a manner that the writing may be understood by the readers of different backgrounds. These readers of different backgrounds may well speak and, in certain circumstances, write in their own dialects, and that’s fine; but unless they are conversant also with a standard English, they will not, beyond a point, be able to communicate with each other.

There is much trendy talk these days about not “privileging” standard English above the various local dialects: doing so in schools, it is argued, is authoritarian, and demeans those who do not speak in standard English. Needless to say, I disagree strongly. If a child is not taught standard English, that child will be unable eventually to communicate effectively with those outside his or her own group: not to “privilege” standard English is to condemn that child for ever to a cultural ghetto.
Caro

These things can be taken too far though.  Recently I was very irritated when comments under an online article critiquing celebrity fashion condemned the writer because she had used 'alumni' for a woman when they wanted 'alumna' and wondering if no-one learnt Latin these days [the answer to that in NZ at least is hardly anyone does].  This was followed by someone calling the writer dumb and stupid.  I was cross in the extreme.

And my four-year-old today said he had brung something,  which his father corrected to brought, and I objected on the grounds that this is the normal use for young children, where they learn grammatical rules, apply them well, and later learn the exceptions.  These come naturally and don't really have to be deliberately taught.  I don't think my son was totally convinced, but I love listening to my grandson using the language - in the last couple of days  'realise' and 'suppose' have been used, and today he asked his mother if she was finding something frustrating!  He gets nearly everything right, so those bits he doesn't are fascinating to me.
TheRejectAmidHair

I don't know Latin either, but I do know that alumna and alumnus are singular, and alumnae and alumni plural. If even I know this, I'd certainly expect a professional writer (i.e. someone getting paid for writing) to know this as well.

Quote:
And my four-year-old today said he had brung something,  which his father corrected to brought, and I objected on the grounds that this is the normal use for young children, where they learn grammatical rules, apply them well, and later learn the exceptions.  These come naturally and don't really have to be deliberately taught.  I don't think my son was totally convinced...


I am not totally convinced either. Browsing through the net, bad grammar - grammar so bad that I often find it difficult to discern the meaning - seems to be the norm rather than the exception. These things need to be taught. Possibly not at the age of 4, agreed, but eventually, they do need to be taught, as correct grammar certainly doesn't come naturally.

Children will pick up the speech patters that they hear around them. If what they hear around them is grammatically correct, that is what they will pick up. If what they hear around them is not grammatically correct, or is a variant, or a dialect, then no, they won't pick up standard grammar.  That in itself need not be a bad thing: as I said in my previous post, variants and dialects can be both expressive and aesthetically pleasing. But my other point still stands: if children do not at some time become conversant with a standard English, they will be unable to communicate effectively outside their own group. And career opportunities that require them to communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds will be closed to them. In short, we do children no favours at all by not teaching them grammar.

Also, of course, if the writer is unaware of the structure of the language (and grammar is, after all, a study of the structure of language) then that writer will not be able to express thoughts of any complexity. In our everyday lives, we don't generally need to express complex thoughts. And we don't often hear them expressed either, so we aren't in a position to absorb from what is around us the language required to express complexity. But if we wish to discuss complex matters such as philosophy, literature, politics, aesthetics, etc., then, unless we are to limit what we say merely to the superficial, we will need at least some awareness of the structure of language. We will need this to express our thoughts, and also, possibly, to think them.
Mikeharvey

In restaurants and cafes I've increasingly heard customers say when ordering 'Can I get?' instead of 'May I have?' or 'Could I have a (tuna sandwich or whatever), please?' Kingsley Amis said there was always a better verb than 'get' and its variatioins.
Chibiabos83

That vexes me too, Mike. There's someone I sometimes go out for a sandwich with who invariably says 'Can I get' and I can't correct him because it's not worth jeopardising a lifelong friendship, but I do long for the cashier to say either 'No, you can't come behind this point, I have to get it', or 'Certainly, it's just over there.'
Caro

There's no real reason why 'get' is any worse a word than 'have', is there?  

Himadri, I have yet to hear an adult say 'brung' (except maybe jocularly) and I don't expect they have all been corrected, so it seems that this is a phase that Toby will develop from.  On the other hand I know a number of people, a small number, who always say "I seen" and "I done" - they include a librarian, a successful businessman and various others.  And they can't change it, or don't hear what to change.  We had people in Toastmasters, where there is a grammatical aspect to it, and each speech this would be commented on and the next time it would be there again.  Other around them didn't say this, one at least was married to a woman who certainly wouldn't have used it.  It just seems to be something a few people don't grow out of, and they will have been corrected at least from the time they started school and probably before that.  

On the other hand, of course, I know very little dialect speech, and used to cringe when our very intelligent radio presenter said fillum, not realising this is a perfectly acceptable Irish pronunciation of film.  Just as not understanding standard English (though how many people in an English speaking country don't?) is limiting, so too is the inability to bring your speech down a level or two.  A very posh accent or even, as I do, an inability to be in the least bit earthy, can mean you can't join in quite the way you would like to at times.
TheRejectAmidHair

Caro, I have no doubt that your grandson will pick up over time what he hears around him. Most children do. Our boy didn’t, but that’s because he had, and still has, Asperger’s Syndrome: he was happier with formally laid out rules. But our boy, because of his condition, was an exception. Most children will absorb all sorts of things, including language, from their surroundings. Some of the things absorbed will be correct standard English (e.g. “brought” instead of “brung”); others won’t – but that’s not a big problem, as everyone around the child will be speaking and understanding in the same way. So that’s all fine and dandy.

The question I am posing is: “Is this enough?” Let me, in illustration of what I mean, sketch out a scene. We are in a software company, and various people from offices around the world are engaged in a conference call to discuss how we should proceed with a piece of software code that is not behaving as expected. The developers, in India, say that they have looked through the code, and they describe what it is doing. And they suggest that the code should be changed so it does something else. Meanwhile, someone whose job it is to design algorithms (let’s call him H for no particular reason), suggests we look first at the specifications. For it could be that the code is doing what it has been specified to do, but that the specifications themselves are wrong. And if the specifications are wrong, that entire part of the design could be wrong. And if that is the case, changing a part of the code to do what we think it should be doing is at best tinkering on the surface while leaving untouched a deeper problem. Or, at worst, it could take us even further from the desired solution – correcting a local problem while creating bigger problems elsewhere.

So, it is agreed to look at the specifications – documents written many years ago, and not, I hasten to add, by H. And the specifications at this point, while not wrong as such, are found not to be stated very clearly: it is sufficiently ambiguous to allow different interpretations. And those who were in charge of the coding; and those who did the testing; had all, without spotting the ambiguity in the specifications, had interpreted them in a sense that the original writer had not intended. Well, these things happen. And this software house, being very competent and professional, put things right without too much fuss.

But you see my point, don’t you? The whole issue had arisen because the writer had insufficient understanding of language to write (at least on this occasion) with absolute precision; and the reader had insufficient understanding of language to spot the ambiguity. Now, these things can happen even when writer and reader both have perfect understanding; we all make mistakes, after all. But the lower the level of understanding of language, the more likely such things are.  And I can assure you, having worked in this sort of area for over 30 years now, that an incredible amount of time is wasted  as a consequence of inadequate communications. And, invariably, the inadequacy of communications is not a consequence of lack of intelligence, or of professionalism, or of experience, but of a lack of sufficient understanding of the structure of language – of how words are put together to convey meaning in an accurate manner. Of grammar, in other words. We may be able to communicate perfectly well in everyday life without any knowledge of grammar at all; but when we need to express something precisely; or when we need to express ideas that are complex or subtle or nuanced; then, without some level of understanding of the structure of language, we are lost. Not only will we not be able to express complex or subtle thoughts, we won’t even be able to understand such thoughts adequately when presented to us; nor even, I think, to think them.

Since I started my blog some five years ago, I have been looking around various other literary blogs. Many are good. Some are very good indeed. But equally, there are a great many that are frankly rubbish. Similarly with political writing: I don’t write on politics, but I do keenly follow current affairs, and keep up-to-date with current political thought. Once again, there is some very intelligent and thoughtful commentary out there, but there is also much that is complete and utter bollocks. And one correlation is very noticeable, both in writing on literature, and on politics: those who communicate intelligent thoughts and ideas (not necessarily those I agree with, but those that are thoughtful and well reasoned) are invariably good writers: and those that are just rubbish are strongly correlated with a conspicuous lack of understanding of how language works. As a statistician, I do realise that correlation need not imply causality: just because A is correlated with B, we cannot conclude that A causes B or B causes A, since there can easily be a hidden variable C that independently causes both A and B. But the fact remains – and I think it is a fact – that certain thoughts are too complex or too subtle to be adequately expressed without a good grasp of language, since language, certainly in speech or in writing, is the primary tool of expression.

Your grandson will, I’m sure, pick up language well enough to interact with people around him in his everyday life. But whether, without further instruction, he will have a sufficient grasp to serve him in his professional life, where, in this increasingly global world of ours, he will need to interact with people from all around the world (and each with their own different dialects, I am not at all sure. This is why this “further innstruction” is so important. It is not merely a precious affectation on my part: to communicate with each other accurately; to express complex thoughts; we need a Standard English that transcends local boundaries; and we need a good grasp of the structure of that Standard English. In short, we need grammar.
TheRejectAmidHair

Caro wrote:
 Just as not understanding standard English (though how many people in an English speaking country don't?) is limiting, so too is the inability to bring your speech down a level or two.  A very posh accent or even, as I do, an inability to be in the least bit earthy, can mean you can't join in quite the way you would like to at times.


My accent, Glasgow-inflected as it is, is far from "posh". And, as a certain epithet I used in my previous post indicates, I can be fairly earthy at times too.

However, being a snob, I refuse to mix with people wot don't know their grammar. So there.  Very Happy
Apple

I think that there is a difference between grammatical errors which originate from the phrases which have been adopted from regions and abroad and the piss poor way some people communicate (I am thinking here of the Jeremy Kyle show and the people who appear on it) I am familiar with many people who actually talk like that and see nothing wrong with their way of communicating.  I believe a lot of it comes from the way people tend to communicate these days - via text message, add to that the local inflections and imported phrasing and you have what is basically a mess.
Mikeharvey

'Can I get' with its hard consonants sounds ugly. 'Please may I have' is softer, and has a much more attractive sound.  Besides being more polite.
Chibiabos83

On top of that, they don't mean the same thing, not that Caro was necessarily suggesting that. If you say 'Can I get' in an eating establishment, the implication in fact is 'Can you get'...
Apple

I think that "Can I get" is an Americanism which has made its way across the Atlantic, but that is preferable to "Give me some..." and "I want..." which is what I generally get presented with at work and never any please or thank you in fact if if someone said "Can I have..." or ""may I have..." to me I would drop through the floor!  But that's a whole new can of worms!
Caro

Michael , my daughter-in-law has been trying to teach my grandson that he should say "I would like" instead of "I want".  It makes me smile because most people do just say "I want" for those simple little bits of food etc.  She thinks it sounds more polite - However Toby is already such a polite little boy I think he needs teaching to be less polite. Hearing a four-year-old tell me he likes my necklace/top/ear-rings seems a little odd to me.

I am not worried about his language since he is VERY interested in language and perfectly to correct other people.  "It's not perfick, Gramma, is perfecT. T."  (Though recently I have heard him say "perfecto" and I don't know if he realises this is a jokey word or not.)  When I said one day their new Cash Car was coming home soon, he said in some disgust, "It's not a cash car; it's a qashqai."  Gramma is duly chastened.

Grammar sometimes helps with meaning, but usually when there is a misunderstanding it is a simple use of word.  My husband said the other day that we were going away this Friday (ie tomorrow), and whoever he was talking to said, "In England they would think you were going away on the following Friday," which makes no sense to me.  That is next Friday.  That's a more likely source of confusion than a split infinitive or 'whom' in the wrong place or a tense used oddly.

Accents also cause problems.  I remember having to mime hanging out the washing in a supermarket in Yorkshire  when the woman couldn't understand 'peg'. (No doubt wondering what sort of pig I was wanting.)
chris-l

Caro, when I worked with Australians many years ago, I was, at first, mystified by the frequency with which they needed to borrow pins. Whatever did they do with them?😄 Quite soon, the truth dawned, and I was happy to lend a pen whenever it was needed!
Joe McWilliams

Ha ha, Chris. That reminds me of a case in which I overheard a Kiwi gal here in town saying her 'poodles don't shit.'
Jen M

I am with Himadri, here; language used incorrectly can convey a completely different meaning to what was intended.  And like Gareth, I don't like "Can I get?" which my (adult) daughter uses, but I no longer correct her on this sort of thing.  Fortunately, both my children use slang in speech but do know when formal language is more appropriate, and both can spell.

I currently work in a University and used to work in a primary school.  I have been appalled at the poor standard of English used in written communications in both these establishments.  In my last job, the Headteacher couldn't spell and could not write grammatically; fortunately, a lot of his communications with parents went through the office staff, all of whom were able to correct these.  In the University, I have less influence, but the number of errors that turn up in publications and on the website is shocking.   We are in the business of education and we should be able to maintain a high standard in our own language.
chris-l

Just in case anyone needs reassurance about the state of spoken English, I have just heard on the weather forecast that bad weather is heading our way from the Artic! They must be shipping it in by the truckload!
Sandraseahorse

Last week on the TV quiz show "Pointless" one contestant was a student of English and French at Lancaster University.  One round was novels and you had to fill in the adjectives from the titles of books with the author given.    She had the choice of:

"The ------  Curiousity Shop" Charles Dickens;

"-------  Tabloid" James Ellroy;

"A Portrait of the Artist as a -----Man" James Joyce;

"The ----Soldier" Ford Madox Ford.

She said that she hadn't heard of any of the books and guessed "The Toy Soldier".  I'll admit that I hadn't heard of the Ellroy novel "American Tabloid" but not to have heard of "The Old Curiosity Shop" I find astonishing.

On the next programme she was  teased gently by the hosts Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman about her lack of knowledge of English Literature and she said indignantly that she was studying English Language, not English Literature, so she didn't have to know anything about books.

I felt like weeping.
TheRejectAmidHair

It's not so much the ignorance I mind so much, as the pride so many seem to take in their ignorance. For a student of English (language or literature) not even to know the titles of such well-known works, and further, to be defiant about not knowing, leaves one depressed, but, sadly, unsurprised.
Chibiabos83

Not that it excuses her ignorance, and I was shouting at my own TV, but in the interests of fairness to the student in question I wouldn't have said she was indignant (as Sandra says). If I recall correctly she didn't volunteer the information that she was doing language rather than literature as a defence for her own poor performance, only when prompted by the presenter. A small and unimportant point, but just in the interest of balance. I imagine she was embarrassed; I hope so - rather that than the alternative. The members of the general public polled were less ignorant - I think the number who identified the Dickens title was in the region of 80%.
TheRejectAmidHair

In that case, I certainly withdraw what I'd said.
Chibiabos83

It doesn't invalidate the point you and Sandra make, though (and perhaps I'm misremembering - I often have Pointless on in the background and don't really pay attention). I don't know how it's possible to study a subject like English - a subject (like my own, music) that I imagine most applicants choose because they are passionate about it (unlike, say, economics, where future monetary gain may be a motivating factor) - and yet have apparently so little curiosity in the subject that you don't recognise an absurdly well known Dickens title. But clearly these people exist because I see them on TV, if not that often in real life.
chris-l

I do recall in the early days of the board, one contributor was an English teacher, who stated that she has never read any Dickens. When I challenged her about this, her defence was that Dickens was not on the syllabus for her degree course. How can anyone want to study a subject like English - let alone be offered a place to do so - with so little interest in, and curiosity about, the core material of their discipline. Don't tell me, I know the answer to this. Even the academics now have often never read in their entirety the 'texts'
they deconstruct. I am waiting for fashions to change, but I have no great optimism that I may live to see it.

Even on the grammar side, my eldest daughter, who has spent 20 years as a teacher of Modern Foreign Languages, has recently, because of the decline in language teaching in schools, been asked to take on some English language classes. At first, she was nervous of her ability to do this, but after a few sessions, her doubts became indignation at the poor level of teaching that had been offered by her predecessors, all so-called subject specialists.
Sandraseahorse

I'll leave it to people to watch the clip on iplayer (20th + 21 January episodes) to decide if she was indignant but she didn't seem to be ashamed of her performance.  Her partner, who was studying English Literature at Northumberland University, volunteered the information that he only knew Brave New World out of a board that included ----- Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons) , ----- Jim (Kinsley Amis), The ------ Stain (Philip Roth).

I remember on a previous occasion when a contestant studying Creative Writing had shown no knowledge whatsoever on a poetry round and had used the "I'm doing Creative Writing so why should I know anything about poetry?" excuse, she was gently chided by Richard Osman, who pointed out that she should try to read some poetry as this would help her with her writing.

As Gareth says, there is a comparison with music.  If a student plans to study musical composition then you would expect that student to have some knowledge and enthusiasm for music.  Possibly there is a solipsist creative musical genius somewhere who believes in listening to only his/her own music but most musicians are only too happy to talk about their musical inspirations.

At a time when the internet is opening up more opportunities to explore what is around us, I find it sad that many students  have such limited vision.

(NB so that I don't appear a Grumpy Old Woman ranting on about today's youth, I find Trueblood on University Challenge deeply impressive)
TheRejectAmidHair

Sandra - I'm a grumpy old git and proud of it!  Very Happy

Mind you, I studied physics and, for postgraduate, mathematics (well - mathematics related, at least). But I've forgotten all the physics I have ever learnt, and am embarrassingly rusty in all areas of mathematics that I do not use at work. So I am no great advertisement, in short, for the education system, and would do well to shut up on this point!

However, over the years, I have been dismayed by poorly written letters we have received from teachers - sometimes from English teachers, or from head teachers. It's hard to keep one's indignation on these matters under wraps...
Chibiabos83

Sandraseahorse wrote:
(NB so that I don't appear a Grumpy Old Woman ranting on about today's youth, I find Trueblood on University Challenge deeply impressive)

With you there. Shame he's an Oxford man, but you can't have everything.
MikeAlx

Interesting. I could identify all those book titles - even the James Ellroy one. But I have read none of them. I've read very little Joyce, and no more than 20 or 30 pages of Maddox Ford, and only a handful of pages of Ellroy (enough to tell me he's not for me - I loathe his prose style!). I'm not sure being able to identify the book titles really makes me any less ignorant than the contestant; all it proves is that I read book reviews and criticism, and tend to remember book titles.
TheRejectAmidHair

I think it does make you less ignorant. It shows at least that you have sufficient awareness of literature at least to know of those titles.

Someone who can name some of the top batsmen or spin bowlers may not necessarily be knowledgeable about cricket, but in relative terms, they are certainly less ignorant than those who can't.

I don't think I'm disputing the contention that knowing the titles is not necessarily indicative of any great knowledge. But not knowing them is surely indicative of ignorance.
chris-l

That I could complete all of the missing titles does not reflect any particular glory on me: with a 40 year career as a librarian behind me, it would be a pretty poor show if I could not. I have read many, but not all of the books in question, is something I am perfectly happy to admit. What does strike me though, is that my parents, both of whom left school at 14, could have correctly answered most of these questions, and between them had certainly read several of the books mentioned.

I think the problem comes down to what my husband frequently bemoans, a decline in what he calls general knowledge. It is all very well, as so often happens, to defend this by saying, 'yes, but we can Google it now', but the problem is, by relying on that, there is no longer any context for what we know. During those many years as a librarian, I spent a good deal of time on enquiry desks of one sort or another, and always liked to think that, even if I knew nothing about the subject of the enquiry, I did at least usually know what area of knowledge was being talked about. Of course, I sometimes got it wrong, but I can probably still remember most of those faux pas, whereas the times I hit on the right subject were all in a day's work.

I find it a little depressing that in order to hold a normal, intelligent conversation, one might first need to Google the subject under debate. I appreciate that knowledge is now a very complex area, but it does seem sad if the only common culture we have with our peers is at the most banal level.

I do not write off the whole future of our culture: I have children and grandchildren who often surprise me with their insights and knowledge. But on the other hand, I do feel that I am becoming more and more a Grumpy Old Woman. The old I cannot help, the grumpy I would rather avoid. I suspect that that, too, is inevitable: I do remember so many older people from my youth who were quite convinced that civilisation was in decline, because the young simply did not have the level of erudition that they claimed for themselves. I it bothers me that I am now filling their shoes.
Apple

I am coming late to this part of the conversation (as usual) but I happened to catch that particular episode and I felt incredibly smug at that time because I recognised all the titles in fact at one point I was shouting the answers at the TV.

I know its probably a case of little things please little minds but the fact I knew something which someone who was studying English at Uni (regardless of the fact it was language and not literature - a point she didn't make clear until prompted) made me smile.
TheRejectAmidHair

I know we've drifted a bit off -topic here (from lack of knowledge of grammar to lack of knowledge in general) but this may not be entirely unrelated: Tom Stoppard says here that the various cultural references that audiences were expected to pick up not so long ago, nowadays they, by and large, don't:

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-31294431
Castorboy

I'm in the Upper circle - I didn't know in which band Syd Barrett was a member.
chris-l

Can I sit next to you, then? I failed on Sydney Barrett and also on the Tzara question, but I still qualified for the Upper Circle!
Chibiabos83

Full marks for me, but it probably helped that I went to see Stoppard's The Invention of Love on Friday (which I partly understood) and had a conversation with a friend afterwards about Tristan Tzara.
Sandraseahorse

I'm joining you two in the Upper Circle.  I knew Syd Barrett and guessed Tristan Tzara as I vaguely remembered a line in "Tavesties" about "my heart belongs to Dada" but got the "Hard Question" wrong as I just glanced at the reviews and decided it wasn't for me and also after dithering opted for the wrong choice on "the dog it was that died.".
Mikeharvey

Loved 'The Invention of Love'.  I never worry if I don't understand everything in a Stoppard play.
Chibiabos83

I enjoyed the play, but it was near impossible to get a handle on, in spite of knowing some of the story (Housman's love for Moses Jackson, the Wilde trial, and so on). His range of references is so catholic. The scene where the Three Men in a Boat pass Reading and ponder whether Wilde's in the gaol seems typical of Stoppard. You have to read and see these plays many times before you get the feel of them, I sense.
MikeAlx

I got 6/7. Never heard of the poem. I'm not well-acquainted with 18th century poetry at all.

Weren't R&G fellows from university rather than school?
Apple

Well I got three questions right!  Embarassed My previous smugness has now evaporated!
chris-l

The trouble is, not one single question referred to '50 Shades of Grey'. If that great cultural edifice had been included, I think you would have scored higher than any of us! I am pretty sure there is a spare ticket for the Upper Circle, and, dear Apple, it is yours, if only as a reward for all the tasks you undertake so the rest of us don't have to!🏆🏆🏆
Apple

chris-l wrote:
The trouble is, not one single question referred to '50 Shades of Grey'. If that great cultural edifice had been included, I think you would have scored higher than any of us! I am pretty sure there is a spare ticket for the Upper Circle, and, dear Apple, it is yours, if only as a reward for all the tasks you undertake so the rest of us don't have to!🏆🏆🏆


I'm not sure if that is a compliment or an insult!  Wink
Caro

If it's any consolation, Apple, I didn't even try to do that test; from the snippets mentioned here, I don't think I would get a single one right, so I didn't think I would put myself through the embarrassment.
chris-l

Apple wrote:
chris-l wrote:
The trouble is, not one single question referred to '50 Shades of Grey'. If that great cultural edifice had been included, I think you would have scored higher than any of us! I am pretty sure there is a spare ticket for the Upper Circle, and, dear Apple, it is yours, if only as a reward for all the tasks you undertake so the rest of us don't have to!🏆🏆🏆


I'm not sure if that is a compliment or an insult!  Wink


Definitely intended as a compliment!😄
Castorboy

This isn't grammar, more usage. In recent books both fact and fiction the words 'in fact' are now run together as 'infact'. Have I missed something important in current English language or is it a new trendy thing?
chris-l

I haven't come across that one, so far. I hope it does not spread.

(This refers to Castor Boy's post about 'infact'. I didn't do a 'quote' because I thought this would appear immediately below, but, as it happened, my message went onto the next page).
TheRejectAmidHair

And another thing ...

...When people say (or write) what follows is rarely a fact. It's usually an opinion, a hypothesis, a conjecture - anything rather than a fact.
Castorboy

In both cases it was, indeed, an expression of an opinion in conversation. 'In fact' is used in the narrative of the novel, and is spelt correctly when comparing two rooms in a house. So the original errors must have been missed by the proof readers Sad

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Things that don't fit anywhere else
Page 1 of 1
Create your own free forum | Buy a domain to use with your forum