In their own words

May 31, 2012

The University of Southampton's Centre for Global Englishes is to be welcomed ("A word of advices: let speakers of Englishes do it their way, UK told", News, 17 May). Much as the tradition of British English is to be treasured, there are good reasons why it should not be put on a pedestal above other forms, at least for academic purposes in the modern world.

In African universities even 40 years ago, students were given mandatory lectures on understanding the delivery of English by lecturers from different cultures and traditions. These covered, inter alia, American and Canadian English (which many may not appreciate as being distinct), British English, Europeans speaking English as a second language, Indian English and African styles of delivery. No value judgements were made: all forms were deemed to be of equal value and the priority was to facilitate understanding by the students and hence to avoid confusion.

Nowadays, we have to accept that our published papers often have to be "translated" into American English if they are to appear in some of the most influential journals, and we have to recognise that the majority of English speakers globally do not speak classical British English. Furthermore, the insidious rise of plagiarism in recent times seems in part to be driven by a belief among some students that the best marks will be obtained by attempting to ape classical British English: there is a strong case for arguing that the best educational outcomes could be achieved by disabusing them of this belief. In particular, variants of English that apply (for example) fewer instances of the definite article than in the traditional style could usefully be accepted as being entirely valid, since the meaning is almost always clear.

The "craft" of plagiarism-spotting at present could be argued to be unfair: native English speakers marking a piece of prose can spot the difference between the genuine written work of a non-native speaker and text that has been plagiarised from a well-edited source, but staff whose first language is not English may be less likely to spot such differentiation.

If students whose normal variant of English is other than the standard British model were told that their version was fully accepted, then it seems possible that we might be able to inculcate a stronger confidence in the validity of the students' exposition of ideas in their own words. (We emphasise that this is a suggestion to the wider community, not a policy that is currently within the regulations of our university.)

Peter Excell, dean of arts, science and technology

Leila Luukko-Vinchenzo, head of the Second Language Learning Centre, Glyndwr University

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