Campus buzz Society

Mind your English

MPhil students Lakshmi P. Gopal, Angel Tess Cherian, and Rajasree R. (standing) Midhu Miriam Alex, Anitha Issac and Anusree R. Nair Photo: Nita Sathyendran   | Photo Credit: Nita Sathyendran



Nobody’s minding their Ps and Qs these days. Or their I and E, S and Z, for that matter. One feels that the Queen’s English, for long the most authoritative and conventional version of the language, is being deliberately ‘dumbed down’, giving away to slang, jargon, colloquialisms and those LOLs, gr8s, howz u and TTYLs that pepper everyday conversations, texts, and emails. Few are those who spare a thought for prose or poetry, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Bacon or Bronte.

It’s a topic that’s close to the heart of the students at the Institute of English, University of Kerala, said to be the crème de la crème of students of English language in the state.

Sitting in the packed library of the institute, surrounded by some of the best tomes in the language, MPhil students Lakshmi P. Gopal, Angel Tess Cherian and Rajasree R. dive into the discussion with gusto. Says Lakshmi: “I teach English at a nursing college in the city and the standard of English of some of the students is abysmal, to say the least. Forget prose, poetry, grammar, tense or pronunciations, some of them don’t even know correct spelling. One of my students actually spelt sister it as ‘syster’; another, afraid as ‘affride’! And a majority of these students have got good marks in English in their Plus Two board exams. I imagine it’s like this in many other colleges in the state. Is it ignorance? Apathy?”

Angel picks up the cue. “Well, they don’t know any better, do they? Grammar is something that needs to be taught at school and clearly that’s not happening here. No wonder they don’t show any interest in the language.”

It’s at this juncture that research students Anitha Issac, Midhu Miriam Alex and Anusree R. Nair, all working for their PhD, join the conversation. “This propensity for using functional English over standard English is a serious problem that should be addressed. Maybe it’s all because education is being politicised in the state. Here it seems to be all about quantity rather than quality,” says Anitha. Rajasree agrees and says: “The syllabus is so vast at all levels that it’s almost impossible to pause and give individual attention to students.”

They all agree that there’s a dearth of proficient teachers too. “And even if there are competent teachers there is a huge attitude problem, especially among science and commerce students. They see English as but a step up the ladder to better things,” says Angel. Anitha chips in with a first-hand observation. “I’ve had many of my science and commerce students, some of whom enjoy the language, asking me what good is learning poetry or prose going to do for them. Little do they realise that competence in English can work wonders for their career, if they chose to have one. However, they are not entirely wrong too. What we actually need is a complete overhaul of the English syllabus to one that is specifically suited to each major,” says Anitha.

Second year master’s students Parvathy M.S., Anju P.S. and Meera C. agree to disagree.

They believe that it’s not dumbing down as much it is the evolving of the language. Says Parvathy: “I love the English language and try as far as possible to stick to correct spellings and grammatical sentences even when I am texting. On that note, I believe that the English language is changing, evolving, and adapting to the needs of its users – as any healthy language should. And it’s not necessarily a change for the worse, either. It’s just becoming different.”

Anju jumps in. “I myself am guilty of ‘dumbing’ down the language. In an exam paper, I once wrote ‘bcoz’ instead of because and got pulled up for it! It’s wrong, but in this day and age, communication is what’s more important. However much we try and rein in the language, people are going to use the language to suit their needs. It’s futile to insist that people stick to Standard English,” she says.

Their juniors and first M.A. students, Priyanka M.L., Arathy J.B. and Rajalakshmi G.R. also see no harm in the changes in the usage of the language.

“We love the language and we are sure many others do too. But communication and convenience is what drives the language in this day and age of social beings and, unfortunately, not grammar or tense,” say the trio.

(A monthly column on views from the campus)


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Printable version | Nov 24, 2021 2:47:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Mind-your-English/article13986320.ece

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