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A collaboration over too much coffee.
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07 October, 2005

Good English Anyone?

Good English Anyone?

Yesterday’s TOI carried this report:

“So, while an examinee will be penalized for spelling errors in essays, letters or specific English language tests, if he writes horror as “horor” (note: even my word processor rejected this and corrected this word automatically without my knowing) in a literature exam (hear, hear!) or his comprehension passage has a couple of crooked spelling, marks will not be slashed. The same applies to science subjects and other social sciences.”

“Pavnesh Kumar, CBSE’s controller of examinations, told TOI, “This year, we’ve devised a scientific marking pattern. A history exam shouldn’t be treated on par with a spelling test.” Kumar says today’s children are “extremely weak” in spelling and blames the “change in the mode of teaching at schools” for this. Spelling and dictation classes are passé, and the focus is on developing communication skills. “It is therefore wrong to penalize kids for spelling goof-ups if they have the right answers,” he says. “Too much usage of computers is also causing this.””

Joking right? This in the land in which Gandhiji said good spelling and good writing was to be inculcated from childhood, a land where Nehru’s letters to his daughter are cherished as literary works.

I was told to recruit some writers for a writing project that I was working on. I tried and tried and tried, without success. Can you believe it? There aren’t many writers who can write Basic English left in this wide country. None. Reports like the above confirm it. Technology companies are searching desperately and compromising with writers who can at best write, “Me good, you bad,” kind of writing.

Oh, Mr. Pavnesh Kumar, do you realize what you have gone and done? You have pushed us brave writers sermonizing about good English, grammar, and punctuation in literary forums into the very nadir of despondency. Oh, why have I lived to see this day?

On the writers’ network that I am part of there was (there still is) a big debate about this and the English purists say English has to be written the way the Englishmen write it. I – being a moderate, and a fence sitter – said we should evolve an English of our own with our colloquialisms and our own sense of humor rather than imitate Englishmen. But, honestly, I absolutely didn’t support Internet Chat lingo and SMSese. I would rather imitate Englishmen than the herewith mentioned.

Now Pavnesh Kumar makes me assume that the Internet chat and SMSese genres are okay. Then we can go ahead and have our place in history as the country that voted – knowingly – for bad language.

But to give up all pretensions of writing good English and to admit openly that, “No, you need not write good English, spell correctly, punctuate,” is like giving the house keys for safekeeping to the robber before going on a holiday.

Is that right Mr. Pavenesh Kumar-ji?”

7 Comments:

Blogger Rob Good said...

You related to Aaron?

bhatnagar.blogspot.com

09 October, 2005 05:32  
Blogger Hema Hirlekar said...

Yes, I agree with John and empathise completely. I searched for good technical writers. I was looking for basic English knowledge along with some technical skills. The responses I received had unbelievable grammar in the covering emails! The attached resumes had some more interesting usage of English. Most of the writers were under 30. So is bad grammar a generation problem?

09 October, 2005 11:35  
Blogger Rahul said...

No wonder this made it to TOI today :D
Anyway there is no essence is teaching pupils without importance to spelling. It will only lead to a certain amount of deterioration in the education patterns. I do not see any good that is offered through this specially with the SMS argot surmounting normal and prsitine English

13 October, 2005 18:47  
Blogger Graffiti Speak said...

You have just expressed what I had on my mind. The quality of English has come down so bad even in the leading dailies and magazines that makes me wonder if the original English is going to survive more than a decade even! Probably 2 generations from now might be reading 'd storm z brewing r8 der' kind of English...

14 October, 2005 14:19  
Blogger mrmojorisin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

20 October, 2005 14:23  
Blogger mrmojorisin said...

I would grant that this may yet be a valid concern for most of us who wish to use English as our primary medium of communication.

However, I wouldn't dare to presume if the writer or any of the respondents have thought to delve beneath the surface of this problem.

The puritanical English that you wish for was suited to a bygone era where the boundaries of countries were defined as much by language as by culture and ethnicity.

Not any more. The technological advances in travel and communication have opened the doors wide to cosmopolitan hotspots across the world where cultures and languages and ethnicities blend seamlessly (for most part).

People who would have learnt and mastered one language (their mother tongue, preferably) earlier are now forced to learn many, just to be able to interact with the multi-ethnic society around them.

Given this constraint, I'm sure you would understand the need to distribute one's available skills equally among many languages - leading to a situation where one is master of no language but a jack of many!

This is what you are seeing manifest itself as a deterioration of "English speaking/ writing skills". I beg you to consider, this is not restricted to English - every language is undergoing such an assault on its structural integrity - and this trend will continue into the forseeable future.

Language today, is more for communicating ideas - making oneself understood (barely!), rather than for exalted literary pursuits.

20 October, 2005 14:28  
Blogger Seeking Clarity said...

Sure, don't turn exams into spellathons, but there is such a thing as legible language. Quite frankly, I'm shocked at the board's decision. Helping my friends write submissions essays I've noticed that there are several common bloopers such as 'your' instead of 'you are', 'u' instead of 'you', 'carrier' instead of 'career'. Again, these are university submission essays. Telling students that bad spelling and grammar are all ok is one thing- but considering the kind of language that we use so casually while smsing, invasions by Hinglish, Tamlish and the like and the general quality of spoken English prevalent at school level- does the board realize what this may just do for their already overworked examiners? Cuz u kno, it aint alwys esy undrstndin wot v stdnts wnt to say, kno wot i mn?

20 October, 2005 22:25  

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