Authority in Language: Investigating Standard English

By James Milroy; Lesley Milroy | Go to book overview

8

SOME PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF PRESCRIPTIVISM

Educational issues and language assessment procedures

8.1

Introduction

Throughout this book, we have considered linguistic prescriptivism from two perspectives. First, we have looked at popular and general notions of correctness in language in relation to known facts about linguistic structure and use. Second, practical questions have been discussed as they emerged, particularly questions of interest to educators. Generally, we have argued that objective and disinterested discussion of important practical issues connected with ‘correctness’ (such as the problems of non-standard speakers in the educational system) has been rare, with the result that language teaching and assessment procedures are often less efficient than they might otherwise be.

We now consider in a little more detail two practical matters related to language teaching and assessment, areas of activity where an objective and informed approach to the facts of language structure and language use would seem to be especially important. The first is the extensive debate which has been particularly prominent in the British press over the last ten years on the nature of the English language curriculum. The second is the manner in which language tests are used to measure, for various purposes, the linguistic abilities of an individual. This latter discussion is not confined to Britain, nor to educational contexts.


8.2

Press, politicians and the great grammar debate

Like most other contemporary states, Britain has a majority of non-standard speakers in the school population. Even within such a relatively small area as the European Community, some governments have responded to the democratisation of education with more enthusiasm than others, as is evident from the widely differing perspectives on education of non-standard dialect speakers described by Cheshire et al. (1989). In addition to this large non-standard English speaking school population, Britain has a sizeable multi-cultural and

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