Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grammer Matters

With today being GCSE results day, it's traditional for newspapers like the Daily Mail and Telegraph to denigrate the grades students have received and rubbish their qualifications. But this year it's different. It's not just that GCSE grades are over-inflated: the whole qualification is dreadful and schools aren't "fit for purpose".  So the Telegraph seems to be saying something like "Congratulations GCSE students on your excellent crop of grades! Well done for all your hard work and that of your teachers too! Now, come closer, so I can whisper this to you: your qualifications are worthless". Nice.

However, in their rush to prescribe solutions for poor levels of literacy and numeracy - a favoured solution to the former being penalising poor spelling and grammar in all GCSE exams - the Daily Telegraph rather put its foot in it. See if you can spot the not so deliberate mistake in this headline:

the original headline - changed later in the day to remove the apostrophe error

And the chorus of abuse from Telegraph readers directed at GCSE students and their teachers was little better. One correspondent decided it was all the fault of patios. Yes, patios.

But cheap digs aside, the more serious point here is that grammar is once again a battlefield, not because it's necessarily on the frontline of any great linguistics war, but because it's often used as an index for wider social issues, be they standards of education, attitudes to authority or even immigration and single-parent families.

In his now infamous Newsnight rant, the historian David Starkey made a link between language and criminality, a link that has never been far away from the surface of some debates about language use (as I've pointed out here on the SFX blog) and one which shows that for many prescriptivists bad grammar is just a few steps away from riots on the streets.

1 comment:

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