Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Language Discourses revision June 2013

For those of you revising for the ENGA3 exam next Monday, there have been some really good recent examples of articles that focus on attitudes to language use and abuse. A few of these have featured on the @EngLangBlog twitter feed, so thanks to the various teachers and students who alerted me to them.

Last year's ENGA3 paper featured a Section B question all about the Queen's English Society and their prescriptivist views about language. Some really on-the-ball students - readers of this blog, no doubt ;-) - managed to mention the demise of the QES as reported here in their answers to the June exam: exactly the kind of contemporary reference that always impresses examiners.

The recent articles that you might like to have a look at all take a look at how people feel about the ways in which language changes.

In this one, Steven Poole looks at how the internet has both spawned linguistic development and, for some at least, linguistic abominations such as LOL and bad spelling.

In this one, Simon Horobin, an English Professor at Oxford University, stirs up the readers of The Daily Telegraph into splenetic projectile-vomiting by telling an audience at the Hay-on-Wye Festival to chillax and STFU about apostrophes and spelling errors.

In this one, Michael Rundell of MacMillan Dictionaries has a dig at those who tell us we should strictly adhere to grammar "rules" just because they say so.

All of them provide plenty of food for thought and ammunition for the exam.

4 comments: said...

Despite a unilateral attempt by a former chair to close the Queen's English Society, it is in fact alive and well. Most of the press ignored subsequent press releases attempting to correct the misleading publicity.
Things do not in general fit neatly into one of two categories. To describe the QES as prescriptive is too simplistic. The main thing the QES wants is for people to care about the English language. The queen's English is not, of course, defined by the English used by the Queen. This topic may be a lesson for students to go to original sources, rather than meekly swallowing what they read in the press or on the internet.
Doubtless some prescriptivist will find fault with the English I have written above!

Dan said...

Thanks for the comment. I had a brief Twitter exchange with a QES person last year and had to remind him/her that it wasn't just me who was calling the QES prescriptive; it was the QES itself! The A level English Language exam last summer used two extracts from the QES website, one of which was entitled "Why the QES is prescriptivist".

I don't doubt that there's a continuum of attitudes towards language usage and change, but the QES generally seems to line up on the side of pedantry and judgement, rather than acceptance of change and flexibility of usage.

Also, I'm not a fan of the royal family, so I don't really hold much store by appeals to tradition and inherited wealth and status, as they seem to inflect the discourses about language with a nationalistic and protectionist tint. said...

Hi Dan and thank you for your reply to my comment. If a QES member in the past has described the QES as “prescriptivist” it is because of the insistence by someone that you must either be a prescriptivist or a descriptivist. This is like insisting you must be either a socialist or a capitalist, we usually have a bit of both in us. Obviously it makes life easier if a full stop is prescribed at the end of a sentence, but it is also helpful if a dictionary describes how a word is actually used. As far as I can find neither the word prescriptivism nor descriptivism occurs in the constitution of the QES; the opening sentence of which reads, “The Objectives of the Society are to promote the maintenance, knowledge, understanding, development and appreciation of the English language as used both in speech and writing”.
As regards monarchical references, the ancient phrase “the queen’s/king’s English” has no more connection with the monarch than phrases like “the queen’s peace” or “the king’s highway” or, come to that “queen’s pudding”. Anyone who suggests otherwise is barking (should I put a full stop here?) up the wrong tree.
I don’t want to get too caught up in this dialogue, so I’ll leave it there for the time being.

Dan said...

I can't see much to disagree with in the wording of the QES's constitution that you've quoted, but as we both know, the practice of "maintaining" the language is often linked to telling people off for the ways they use language, and that's what worries me.

As for the link to monarchy, hmmm.....