LINGUIST List 9.1694

Wed Dec 2 1998

Disc: UK National Literacy Strategy

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Carl.Mills, Re: 9.1693, Disc: UK National Literacy Strategy
  2. Damon Allen Davison, RE: 9.1693, Disc: UK National Literacy Strategy
  3. A.F. GUPTA, Disc: National Literacy Strategy

Message 1: Re: 9.1693, Disc: UK National Literacy Strategy

Date: Tue, 01 Dec 1998 12:54:44 -0500 (EST)
From: Carl.Mills <Carl.MillsUC.Edu>
Subject: Re: 9.1693, Disc: UK National Literacy Strategy

Working in the USA, where the teaching of English structure in the
schools was abandoned long ago, I want to offer a strong second to
Geoffrey Sampson's argument that teaching any grammar is better than
teaching none. It is difficult to say anything concrete about the
prose of university students when they don't know a preposition from
an infinitive. Interestingly, Roz Gann, a doctoral student of mine
who teaches in one of our city's worst inner city schools, is finding
that kids, at least inner city kids, want to talk about language, want
to learn about language. If adolescent gang members can be caused to
take an interest in the derivatinal morphology of the latinate portion
of the English lexicon, who knows what might happen?

Carl Mills
University of Cincinnati
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Message 2: RE: 9.1693, Disc: UK National Literacy Strategy

Date: Tue, 1 Dec 1998 20:54:06 +0100
From: Damon Allen Davison <>
Subject: RE: 9.1693, Disc: UK National Literacy Strategy

The notion that creating and using just *any* system of terminology
for teaching English seems ridiculous, especially since the very idea
behind the UK National Literacy Strategy (NLS) was to do things the
*right* way.

Students who learn the non-scientific terminology (i.e. not the
terminology that is generally considered correct by most linguists)
get along very well as long as they remain in the environment where
such terminology is taught. Perhaps it will even help their writing.
But a problem surfaces when they are forced to learn another
metalanguage which expands concepts whose meanings they thought they
knew. This is true for both traditional grammar and for any new terms
created within the NLS Framework. But the terminology partly
described in Ms. Fraser Gupta's post compounds the problem by poorly
or incorrectly defining terminology already in use by the linguistic
community, and redefining terms from Traditional English Grammar.

In addition, the NLS Framework highly overestimates the prestige of
so-called "British English" in the world ("British Englishes" would be
more precise, of course):

	"Standard English 'contrasts with dialect, or archaic forms or those
	pertaining to other forms of English, such as American/Australian
	(quoted from Ms. Fraser Gupta's post)

There are already enough Britons who believe that their speech is
"correct" - and that the speech of Australians, Irish and North
Americans (among many others) is "incorrect" - without the Britons
having learnt it in school.

Comments are very welcome.

Damon Allen Davison


Damon Allen Davison
Internet Project
Romance Languages Department
University of Cologne
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Message 3: Disc: National Literacy Strategy

Date: Wed, 2 Dec 1998 10:51:38 GMT
Subject: Disc: National Literacy Strategy

I have had some very interesting responses to my recent LINGUIST
posting on the UK National Literacy Strategy:

Vol-9-1629. Tue Nov 17 1998. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Responses came from the UK, US, Germany, Norway, Singapore and South

There was general agreement that it IS worthwhile to introduce 
children to linguistic analysis at some point and in some form, but
also a concern that this should be done in a way that is both
pedagogically and theoretically appropriate. 

While UK correspondents were familiar with the report, many overseas
correspondents expressed an interest in reading it. It doesn't seem
to be easy to find, but here is the full reference:

Department for Education and Employment. 1998 The National Literacy
Strategy: Framework for Teaching. London: Dept. for Education and
Employment. ISBN 0 85522 714 1

The DfEE has a massive website ( which 
includes a lot of stuff about the National Literacy Strategy, but not
a copy of this document (yet).

Dick Hudson <> agreed that there are 
problems with the document, and especially with the glossary, but felt
that it was a move in the right direction in the sense that it did
bring grammar teaching into schools. He didn't feel that the document
introduced terminology for its own sake (as I had implied) and felt
that a lot of the advice would be "actually helpful for teachers who
are short of time and expertise for planning their literacy work". He
added that " I don't see why your lists of terms/concepts for the
reception class is so daunting. Grapheme and phoneme are technical
terms for us, but kids needn't worry about them." . Although neither
linguists nor teachers appear to have been involved in the current
document, David Denison has made a critique of the glossary, and
David Crystal is to be involved in a future revision, which should
improve things.

Bob Yates <> discussed some aspects of 
grammar education in the US, where the syllabus is not centralised as
it is in the UK, but where the grammar teaching situation is otherwise
quite similar. He felt "The only reason that "traditional grammar"
should be taught is that it is in all the references that the teachers
and students will consult. I think a more linguistic perspective
should be adopted. At least, the perspective should be informed by
the notion that every native speaker who is in school has a very
complex knowledge of English and the goal of teaching English grammar
is to make them conscious of what that knowledge is." Current models
of grammar are not usually taught in schools. Yates referred to
ventures in Australia to teach grammar using a systemic functional
model, though this would not be suitable in the US, where it is little
known. Yates " would like to teach about language as a way to think
about hypothesis building and testing."

Martha Young-Scholten <>
told me about a project at the university of Durham: "based on the
co-operation we'd already established with the School of Education
here, we've managed to take charge of setting up their first-year
primary English 'Language and Learning' module to address the National
Literacy Strategy. And we aren't doing so by following the list in
that ring binder, but rather by doing what we usually do - introducing
generative linguistics to our students. "

S.K.Casson <>, also involved with the Durham
project, is researching "the acquisition of literacy in young
children (probably 8-11 years) in the school environment ... looking
at non-standard dialect speakers. In the course of my research I will
have an opportunity to see how the Literacy Strategy is being
implemented. At the moment I feel that the curriculum writers ignore
linguistic theory and research when describing "S.E. grammar","

Di Kilpert <> discussed something that both
Yates and Hudson also referred to, which is that the participation of
linguists might have been hampered by their not engaging with issues
of prescription and pedagogy. Like the other correspondents, she
deplored the misinformation about linguistics that was suggested by my
extracts and added "I think it will be a long time before real
knowledge about linguistics filters through to the schools. It will
take a lot of slow patient grind to achieve anything. I would suggest
that linguists have to get their hands dirty and get a bit better at
public relations."

A number of correspondents commented on specific problems in the use
of terms in the extracts I had provided.

Peter T. Daniels ( was concerned with the
uncritical use of 'grapheme' which is poorly defined and probably not
of great use (certainly to 5 year old). See Daniels's paper
referring to the multiple definitions of 'grapheme' in LACUS Forum
1991 Ann Arbor and in Sec. 1 of *The World's Writing Systems*,

Damon Allen Davison <> commented on the 
extraordinary opposition in the document between "Standard English"
and "American English", which ignores the fact that there is more than
one standard variety of English.

 David Deterding <>, commented 
jokingly on 5 being rather late to learn the phonemes of the native
language! He also commented on the poor use of technical terms in the
extracts. " Isn't it ironic that someone with such a lousy
understanding should make such absurd demands on five-year-old

 Peter K W Tan <> asked whether any linguists were
involved, given the contents. And Norman Goalby
<> commented on the bizarre notion of
the history of the English genitive given in the document.

Many thanks to all the correspondents.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Anthea Fraser GUPTA :$staff/afg
School of English
University of Leeds
 * * * * * * * * * * * *
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