'Proper' English is not a luxury 3

September 14, 2007

Jennifer Jenkins is worryingly confused. Toleration of varieties of English is one thing, a complete lack of critical judgment about suitability of language for different communicative purposes quite another.

It reflects badly on her that she scorns scholars such as Roy Harris for pointing out an obvious fact: some students (including some native speakers) are ill-equipped to write academic assignments in English. I am sure Harris is aware that her trivial examples (accommodations, informations) are potentially reflections of local variation. No serious linguist pretends for one moment that the inexorable spread and change of English can be controlled from an office in Oxford. What Harris, and many of us, find hard to deal with is text that is so non-standard that the meaning and arguments are obscured.

Studying for a degree needs highly developed powers of comprehension and expression, no matter which language one uses. Would Jenkins expect to register for a degree in, say, Finland or Japan, without having an appropriate command of academic Finnish or Japanese? Why should the position for English be any different? English's status as a lingua franca in no way absolves students from the responsibility to master as well as they can the appropriate form of English. Fortunately, most students know that perfectly well.

Jenkins tries to portray her critics as entrenched dinosaurs, but we don't like being ticked off for trying to defend the principle that academic language should conform to certain norms, which are widely supported across the international community and followed by Jenkins herself.

Charles Owen
Department of English
Birmingham University

Please login or register to read this article

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments