Gransnet forums


Whatever happened to grammar and spelling?

(230 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 27-Sep-12 08:42:20

This week's guest blog post is one to appeal to the pedants amongst us <raises hand enthusiastically>

Do add your comments here.

The authors of the post - Katherine Fry and Rowena Kirton - have two signed copies of their book to give away and will be picking their favourite comments left between now and midday on Thurs 4 October to win them. It goes without saying that comments are welcome at any time - not just up to the closing date.

Greatnan Thu 27-Sep-12 09:08:32

There has always been a difference between formal English and colloquial speech - the change now is that young people don't recognise that difference. I believe some A-level entrants use textspeak in their papers.

Forum etiquette is to ignore mistakes in spelling and grammar, hard though it may be for the pedants amongst us - and I know we have many retired and working teachers in our number. We have had numerous threads where we have told of our pet hates (mine is 'between you and I) so this is not a new theme for us - but it is always interesting.

I don't know why everybody does not use Spellcheck, which takes only a second or two. I use it to correct my typos because I am a fast touch typist and my computer cannot always keep up with my fingers.
The mistake I notice very often is the use of 'loose' for 'lose' - I find this hard to understand as they sound very differently.
I have several dyslexics in my family and I know it has no correlation with intelligence - one of my grandsons has an MSc in marine biology and his dyslexia is so bad that he was statemented at school and given 25% extra time for his 'A'-levels.
I would hate to think that any member was inhibited in posting because they feared criticism of their use of English.

inishowen Thu 27-Sep-12 09:18:58

I also belong to a knitting forum. I find that the UK people usually have a good standard of spelling and grammar. The Australians are of the same high standard, but the Americans, well you'd have to see it to believe it. As knitters, they can't even spell "purl", they think it's "pearl". Then there's "kneedles". I could go on with many more examples. My opinion is that the UK knitters on my forum are mature ladies, who had a good, rounded eduction. It would be a different case if it were younger people speaking in text language!

Marigold Thu 27-Sep-12 09:20:40

My pet hate is 'thuh' before words beginning with a vowel - it's an awful Americanism which has nothing to do with 'textspeak'. For example;- Thuh Earth, thuh East, thuh arm, thuh ice, etc.

fatfairy Thu 27-Sep-12 09:21:18

My daughter - now 33 - never seemed to have her spelling mistakes corrected when at school. I took to regularly reviewing her homework and helping her to correct her errors (no, I wasn't a teacher - I was a civil servant). She wasn't happy at the time, of course - but she's since thanked me because she can spell - and write fluently - when many of her contemporaries can't. In her high-profile career it's proved to be very useful indeed. I hope she takes the same approach with her daughter!
Sending this, having carefully checked for errors ...

feetlebaum Thu 27-Sep-12 09:21:46

I think it is important to bear in mind that grammar is descriptive, and not prescriptive... Grammarians used to throw up their hands in horror on encountering a "split infinitive" - purely because Latin infinitives were impossible to split, being single words. Admittedly there's often a more elegant way to phrase something, but nobody was able to improve Star Trek's "To boldly go..."

Greatnan Thu 27-Sep-12 09:27:48

I agree feetlebaum - and I have stopped finding convoluted ways to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition where it forms part of a verb. Churchill was reputed to have said 'Up with this I will not put', which makes no sense as he could just have easily have said 'I will not put up with this'.

Mamie Thu 27-Sep-12 09:36:22

It may be your birthday Greatnan, but I am still going to challenge your first statement! (sorry...) I don't believe that young people don't know the difference between text speak and standard English. I thnk it is gr8 that ppl play with language (can't finish it properly I don't have a great command of textspeak myself).
Inishowen - how on earth would you speak in text language?
The language teaching in the literacy strategy is very rigorous and we should be celebrating the rise in Key Stage 2 English results this year.
Have the authors of the book been to any literacy lessons? Have they spend hours and days looking at children's writing? I seriously doubt it. Could we have evidence rather than assertions, or is that too much to ask?
angry angry angry

Lilygran Thu 27-Sep-12 09:42:44

Greatnan you are right; it isn't that young people speak and write more badly than we did or than our children did, it is that they only have one voice. There is a very simple-minded attitude to language which was very current some years ago. This was that since every form of English is equally admirable, to try to change the way children speak and write was the worst kind of elitism. This argument was often put forward by people who could shift register and operate in a number of different styles. Then it got mixed up with the equally pernicious idea that deference of any kind was a bad thing. So now politeness and courtesy are bad in principle and loud bad language in public places is perfectly acceptable.

Greatnan Thu 27-Sep-12 09:44:21

No need to apologise, Mamie - I am always happy to take part in sensible debate and I think you are probably right on many points you make. I was told about the use of textspeak in formal situations by a teacher friend and I wouldn't like to mark those papers because I don't know the language!

I have to say, though, that the spelling by the teachers on some of my gc reports leaves a lot to be desired, but I noticed this amongst my colleagues when I was teaching in the 1970's. Some people just don't have an 'eye' for words.
I do get mildly annoyed when people whose business is words - journalists, sub-editors, proof-readers, allow poor grammar, such as 'The boat sunk'.

GillieB Thu 27-Sep-12 09:45:23

I think that you only have to look at Mumsnet to see that there is a difference in the standard of English between the young and the old. My son was awarded a "D" for English GCSE at his first attempt. When I started to check over his written work I could see why - how can anyone get to the age of 16 and not have been corrected when they wrote "would of"? I foolishly assumed that teachers corrected grammatical and spelling mistakes: how wrong I was!

absentgrana Thu 27-Sep-12 09:51:12

Katherine Fry and Rowena Kirton were interviewed on Breakfast television this morning. Perhaps neither of them is familiar with a television studio which can seem a daunting place, but I thought that their answers to questions about correct grammar were poorly thought out and boringly expressed. If the book describes things in a similar way, it's not going to convert anyone.

Greatnan Thu 27-Sep-12 09:53:49

Yes, I saw that interview and was also unimpressed - they just came over as picky and preachy.
Do you remember a programme called 'Ladette to Lady' which purported to teach some 'lower class' girls how to behave well? I thought it was hilarious when one of the 'posh' women told them she was going to teach them 'pronounciation'.

whenim64 Thu 27-Sep-12 10:05:22

I think there is lots of evidence that young people have the same command of grammar that our generation have, and there are many who make those basic mistakes in the use of 'too' and 'to' or 'loose' and 'lose' but I have also seen appalling spelling and grammar that indicates young people have not learned to differentiate between formal and informal writing. Some time ago, I mentioned the essays my daughter was marking at college, and the use of text-speak in them. I have seen a couple of pieces of submitted work that she had to reject. She asked the students to re-submit them, as they were taking so long to correct that they could have been re-written more quickly. They were written entirely in text-speak. The college has updated essay-writing guidance because of this phenomenon, reminding students to use correct spelling and grammar, and to check their essays. They don't penalise those basic errors, but will correct them during marking. Any use of text-speak, though, will be marked down or failed.

Grossi Thu 27-Sep-12 10:25:13

I really don't think people who don't care about grammar and spelling are going to buy a book about it. And people who think they know it all probably won't buy a book about it either (although they might be given a copy as a present).

Where I work, we have plenty of books on grammar and good writing, but nobody ever looks at them as far as I know.

My favourite is an American one (shock, horror shock), called Woe is I, by Patiricia T. O'Conner. The first chapter is called Woe Is I: Therapy for Pronoun Anxiety, and the others are similarly inviting.

p.s. I don't know the author, I just like her book. blush

Greatnan Thu 27-Sep-12 10:28:14

If somebody knocks at your door and you ask 'Who is it?' and you get the reply 'It is I' - it's probably an English teacher! (The verb 'to be' takes the nominative complement, ie. a subject, not an object.)

Mamie Thu 27-Sep-12 10:28:52

I think the English language is incredibly difficult and causes enormous problems compared with languages where the phoneme / grapheme correspondence is closer. I don't doubt that there are pupils leaving school who have not fully mastered spelling and grammar, but I would say that the percentage is not any higher than it has ever been.
I think the literacy strategy in schools has made / is making a huge difference and needs to be given time, resouces and support from everyone.
Yes, on the whole Gransnet is more formal and literate than Mumsnet, but it is not always the case. You still see many errors in grammar and spelling and frankly I am delighted that people feel confident enough to post and are not put off by the language police and the pedants. The threads on Mumsnet zip along with people using mobile phones, often having problems with predictive text, but creating lively and useful debate. I often think Gransnet is quite boring in comparison.
Forums, texting, email are a kind of written speech, a different register, a recent genre. Do some Gransnetters perhaps not recognise that there are different ways of writing for different purposes?

petallus Thu 27-Sep-12 10:42:05

My clever friend always comes on the phone with 'It is I' but I stick to 'it's me' because that's the kind of person I am.

It's a pleasure to read something which is beautifully constructed with good grammar and perfect spelling but I still think the content, that is what the person is trying to say, is much more important.

BarbaraAbbs Thu 27-Sep-12 10:50:53

Most of the Forum comments are general, but I have a specific one. I really hate expressions like 'I was sat at the back..' instead of 'I was sitting' (unless of course you were placed at the back by someone else.) 'I was stood by the wall..' etc. I was 'stood up' by someone is correct. What has happened to standing, sitting, lying etc etc? I am sure there is a way of expressing this with transitive, participle and imperfect tense thrown into sentence, but I can't remember exactly how!

Greatnan Thu 27-Sep-12 10:56:23

Mamie, I agree that there are different uses of language for different purposes, but the problem is making sure that students know that! I have seen science reports written in the first person, very informally - I think it is great that there is a literacy strategy in place now and I am sure it covers the different purposes of language - affective, to convey information, to deliver an argument, and so on.

absentgrana Thu 27-Sep-12 11:01:27

Some years ago I answered the telephone and someone called Cathy asked for absent. I assumed that she was a cousin I hadn't seen for quite a long time and launched into a chatty conversation. It quickly became apparent that we were not on the same wavelength so I said, "I think you might have the wrong number. To whom did you wish to speak?" She replied, "I must have the wrong number. I don't know anybody who says whom." grin

Mamie Thu 27-Sep-12 11:20:13

Yes it does Greatnan and there is a huge amount in Key Stage 2 about writing for different purposes and audiences. I think that we were at fault in schools in the seventies and eighties for not being sufficiently systematic about the teaching of grammar and spelling, but it was also the time of the National Writing Project and wonderful stuff about finding and reaching an audience. I firmly believe that writing is a craft and that you learn to write by writing. This isn't to say that you don't teach the rules formally, but putting them into practice in context is hugely important in learning how to write well. I just hate the notion that unless you can do it all perfectly you really shouldn't be allowed to write at all and certainly not in public. Of course there are times when you need a formal register (when we wrote Ofsted reports every sentence had to contain a judgement; much harder than you might think), but it often makes for very stilted prose. Writing should be for self-expression and joy, not an opportunity for judgement and pedantry.
It reminds me of the man who spoke seven languages fluently, but had nothing to say in any of them.

salbristol Thu 27-Sep-12 13:00:53

Having fun this morning reading, and totally agreeing with, many of the messages which have been posted so far. My main gripe is with the mis-use of apostrophes, either not there when required or - and this is where I would happily deface the offending word if I carried a handy pen - where marks are added unnecessarily. There is a sign in the departure terminal for cruise ships in Southampton which reminds passengers to have their passport's ready. I have tried, politely, to point out the mistake but each time have met with blank expressions!

petallus Thu 27-Sep-12 13:06:53

Yes, cannot disagree with what is being said here but I do wonder about threads like this intimidating Gransnetters who might not be so confident about such things.

In fact I am always apprehensive now when writing affect/effect because someone mentioned in a previous similar thread to this one that people using the wrong version was their pet hate.

And please don't rush in to explain the rules to me because I have heard them many times and it just won't stick.

Stansgran Thu 27-Sep-12 13:42:19

Did anyone do the grammar test in T%imes this week? I think there was a mistake in the questions and answers! Shock horror. I will enjoy reading Saturday's edition where complaints are aired, answered and apologised for.