Linguists celebrate unity

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Heather Rendall (TES, Teacher magazine, October 24) has spotted a development which we should all be celebrating: the first government attempt to unify grammatical terminology.

A group of enthusiasts tried to do this a century ago, but failed; but now we have (more or less) compatible terminology for literacy at both key stage 2 and 3, and for modern foreign languages.

This is obviously in everybody's interest. The idea that one term is as good as another leads to confusion when children change teachers between years or between subjects.

Ms Rendall is right to recommend the web glossaries rather than the printed version distributed at the start of the National Literacy Strategy.

However, as a professional grammarian, I would dispute her criticisms of the literacy glossary. For example, it is not a mistake to say that English has only two tenses; this is what most modern grammars of English say. Nor is it wrong, in a comparison between the terms "accent" and "dialect", to say that "accent" refers only to pronunciation. The literacy and language glossaries are in general reliable reflections of the best in linguistic scholarship.

Richard Hudson Phonetics and linguistics University College London Gower Street London WC1

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