Superfluous standard?

June 6, 2003

As an English-language specialist, I help students do what Martin Luck ("Give their grammar a fine-tuning", THES, May 23) suggests PhD students should do progressively: organise their writing, touch up their grammar or make their style conform to their faculty requirements.

In so doing, I find myself tentered between two poles. I cannot help agreeing that standards need to be upheld and that good science - or good investigation in the humanities or any other discipline - can be obfuscated by poor language. But I am mindful of the exigencies of widening participation and international, not to say globalising, forces. Does good science, for example, require an argument that follows British-American presentation conventions, whereby an argument is first stated and then illustrated and exemplified? This may seem alien, even laughable, to some international students. Is the "standard" use of prepositions, definite and indefinite articles and "s" marking third-person verbs absolutely necessary? Rarely does any non-standard use of these impede clarity.

Similarly, is the use of the passive voice required or a sprinkling of active-voice verbs as a concession to more modern thinking? Britons and Americans are far outnumbered by other users of English who continue to protest, not only at having to express their ideas in this language, but also at having to obey seemingly superfluous codes.

Paul Roberts
University of Hertfordshire

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