Time and Space

Proper English?

“Language changes over time, but some changes are made in ignorance and are incorrect.”

(Jokingly) Attributed to The Queen

From the first time we step into an English class, we’re told that the rules matter, that they must be followed, that we must know when it’s appropriate to use a comma and what it means to employ the subjunctive mood. But do these things really matter? Outside of the classroom, what difference does it make if we write “who” instead of “whom” or say “good” instead of “well”? In this section we’ll find out that in the real world it does make a difference, at least sometimes. In order to determine when those times are we have to ask: for whom are we speaking or writing? We’ll also examine some ingrained attitudes towards various uses of language, and discuss the idea of the status of English. As always, widen your knowledge by reading a selection of the articles below. Begin with The Ever-Whirling Wheel to discover why people (sometimes) hold such strong attitudes towards the notion of ‘proper’ English, then choose one or two more for yourself:

Class Activity

After reading about viewpoints held by those on both sides of this issue, why not stage a debate about this topic. One side of the debate should hold to the notion that there is a proper way to speak, and argue why it is important to use language correctly; the other side should oppose this notion and present reasons why language should not be constrained by ideas of proper/improper.

Learner Portfolio

Write one-two pages about your findings from this section. For example: is there a ‘proper’ way to speak English? In what ways can people deviate from Standard English? What are some of the drivers behind negative attitudes to language deviation?


From the TOK Newsletter: Formal Language

Description: “When it comes to texting, the period, full stop, point – whatever you call it – has been getting a lot of attention. People have begun noticing slight changes to the way our smallest punctuation mark is deployed, from declarations that it’s going out of style to claims that it’s becoming angry. What they’re actually noticing is written language becoming more flexible, with texting possessing its own set of stylistic norms (sometimes informally called “textspeak” or “textese”).”

Discussion points and exploration: This article makes a simple point, but perhaps one we might overlook: the effect that punctuation has on our expression of ideas and beliefs. And what does it say about language use and society that punctuation is being used less and less?

Learner Portfolio

  1. Write a one-two page entry in your journal in which you consider the answers to the following questions raised by this article:
  • What is formal language?
  • Does formal language undermine our sincerity?
  • What is ‘textese/textspeak’?
  • Why does language use change over time?

Body of Work: Politics and the English Language

This essay may be Orwell’s most famous shorter work, and a very popular piece of his writing. In it he rails against linguistic pet hates that anyone today might compose in a green-text email to the newspapers. The enduring popularity of “Politics and the English Language”probablyderives from two things: first, it gives a list of writing tips for aspiring writers; second, it savages politicians and what they say, an attitude that never goes out of fashion, but is prophetically relevant in today’s political climate.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: 

Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

This essay would make an ideal text to bring into your Individual Oral, not least because it can be criticised at least as much as it can be admired. The named author would be ‘George Orwell.’ You could explore the Global Issues of Belief, Values and Education or Art, Creativity and Imagination. The text could be used, for example, in conjunction with any literary passage that uses language in a fresh, original, novel or moving way. You may have ideas about how to pair the articles with the literary texts you are studying. If not, don’t worry; speak to your teacher or use the following suggestions as a starting point: 

  • Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife – you could choose a poem that makes exiting use of language: Thetis, Queen Herod and Little Red Cap, for example, all use wordplay, rhyme, imagery and metaphor in fresh and exciting ways. 
  • Shaw’s Pygmalion – you could compare attitudes towards varieties of English as expressed by Higgins in Act 1, or look at his teaching methods in Act 2.
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – Act 3 Scene 1 – in which Shylock so movingly and poetically expounds on his beliefs – springs to mind as an obvious parallel. So too does Act 4 Scene 1 in which the Duke’s words fail to live up to his office and he relies on Portia to make his arguments for him.

Categories:Time and Space

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