You are reminded of the necessity for good English and orderly presentation in your answers.
This sentence appears on the front page of all the question papers of an A Level Examining Board. * it presumes that you know what good English is, and that you could choose not to use it.
The same word good is applied to spokenEnglish too. The following description of a man wanted by the police appeared in a provincial newspaper:
A man with a cultured accent is being sought by police …. He wore a tattered brown trilby, grey shabby trousers, crepe-soled shoes and a dark coloured anorak. He carried a walking stick and spoke with a good accent, the police say.
* Exams at Advanced Level in England are done by studentsat 18, they are national, public exams and are used for university entrance like the bachillerato.
(i) Discuss what you think the examining board means by good English.
(ii) The cultured, good accent doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the description of the wanted man. Why is this? What would a reader of the newspaper understand by it, and how would he or she recognise it?Commentary
The good English demanded by the examining board is a style of written English that is thought to be suitable for a formal occasion like an examination, but which is not easy to define except by saying what you must not do. We can take it for granted that legible handwriting is necessary, otherwise communication between writer and examiner would be difficult. Accuratespelling is also required- that is, conformity to the conventional standard spellings which can be found in dictionaries, together with the acceptable punctuation of sentences, which is closely linked to correct grammar – the right order and relationship of words, phrases and clauses in sentences. In choosing your words, you have to avoid slang and colloquial phrases, which are considered to beappropriate in spoken conversation and informal settings only, otherwise your writing will be called bad English.
Here is some evidence of what is thought to be bad English, taken from a newspaper report in February 1992. The headline was:
Bad English could cost pupils 5% of GCSE marks
The report then referred to writing in A level examinations also as ‘increasingly shoddy’, ‘sloppy’, and that‘candidates write very badly’ and added, ‘other exam boards are lamenting illegible and untidy handwriting, bad grammar, and inappropriate slang’.
These evaluative terms are impressionistic and subjective. The evidence for bad English quoted from an examiners’ report was:
(i) colloquialisms such as up-front, laid-back, over the top, bullshit and stuck-up and posh;
(ii) inability to spellaccommodation;
(iii) use of would of and could of instead of would have and could have.
The good accent of the wanted man is even more difficult to define in linguistic terms. It is the accent which has in the past been called the Queen’s English, public school English, educated English or BBC English. The wanted man’s accent was described in the newspaper as cultured. Informally, those whodon’t speak it might have called it posh. It is associated with a particular social class in England (not Scotland, Wales or any other English speaking nation). We do not normally associate this class with tattered, shabby clothing.
Our use of English always varies according to a number of factors, and has to be appropriate to the occasion, the audience and the topic. In speaking or writing Englishtherefore, we have to make choices from:
(i) our vocabulary, or store of words, (sometimes called lexis, so that we are said to make lexical choices);
(ii) grammar, that is, that form words take (word-structure or morphology), and how words are ordered into sentences, (sometimes called syntax);
(iii) pronunciation in speech.
We have practically no choice in spelling in writing,...