Monday, 18 November 2013

perscriptivism's logical conclusion


Behold ye prescriptivists, for this is your king

Slang banned from Croydon school to improve student speech

 Slang such as "ain't", "innit" and "coz" has been banned from a school in south London to try to help students find future employment.

 Harris Academy Upper Norwood said it implemented the initiative to allow its students to "express themselves confidently and appropriately".

 Pupils heard using "informal language" will be asked to "reflect" on it.

 Other banned words include "like", "bare" and "extra" and the phrases "you woz" and "we woz".

 Starting sentences with "basically" and ending them with "yeah" is also considered to be too informal at the Croydon school.
 
The headmaster of this school has decided to ban certain words from his school. Of course, he's bound to be successful because banning people from speaking the way they do naturally has such a long and proud and successful history.
 
Looking at the list left me scratching my head. the 'informal' words included the word 'like'. My grammar sense started tingling as I wondered whether the word 'like' would be banned in every possible form 'adverb, verb, adjective, noun' or just the interjection. I then wondered if other filler interjections like 'erm, well, you know' would have to go, or if 'like' was somehow particularly heinous?
 
Starting a sentence with 'basically' is also no good it seems, which came as  shock to me as if any of my students started a sentence with 'basically' I would be over the moon. I had no idea 'basically' was now a no-no.
 
Apparently 'Liam Reddington' of the 'plain English campaign' thinks this is all marvellous, which means I can add the plain English campaign to my the list of people whose opinion I can disregard.

The school in Croydon isn't the only one it seems, A Black country school has banned children from using their own native dialect.  Kids there are no longer allowed to say "gonna" or "aint". They will be told to speak 'properly'. 

Of course all of this is done with loving paternalism, -in both cases the threat of putting students "future prospects at risk" is used as justification for the eradication of linguistic diversity. With over 437 languages endangered and many that we know have already gone extinct it seems entirely odd that a "job interview", something which takes up probably about 1 day of an average life time, should be used as justification for trying to dictate how others should speak. John Mcwhorter argues rightly that this is just plain illogical.

Of course, trying to tell others how to speak 'for their own good' has a long  history. The Colonial British thought that forcing everyone to speak English would be a jolly good idea. They had  fantastic ways of making sure people conformed, like the "tally stick" in Ireland:
The "tally stick", or "bata scoir" in Irish, was introduced into classrooms. Children attending school had to wear a stick on a piece of string around their necks. Each time they used Irish, a notch was cut into the stick. At the end of the day, they would be punished according to how many notches they had on their stick


And it wasn't only Britain, the KMT only allowed Chinese to be spoken in schools in Taiwan, and before that the Japanese forced taiwanese kids to speak Japanese. This often meant that Taiwanese youngsters who only spoke Chinese often couldn't communicate with their Japanese/Taiwanese speaking grandparents. Even now language policy is a controversial and sensitive topic.

Of course, those paternalistic Brits who chose to push  the 'superioir' English language on the lowly 'colonialis' had, centuries earlier, considered English as so debased that intellectuals would only write in Latin. 
 
If you take great delight in telling other people how to speak, remember that this is the logical conclusion. One correct version of a language spoken by everyone and governed by a small elite making arbitrary rulings about what is acceptable based on what they do and don't like at one particular point in time. The two major problems with this are firstly, it means the death of any kind of linguistic diversity and the promotion of one group of language users (for example, RP speakers) over all others. And secondly, in the history of the world, no one has ever managed to legislate a language into submission.

 

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