Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nothing to loose (sub-standard English)

Ahh – loose, lose, what difference does it make, eh? You know what I mean.

Confusing lose and loose happens not just in Cayman, but all over the English-speaking world. Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn’t doing anything to fix the problem, so we must fix it ourselves – if we can.

The functional illiteracy of so many of our graduates of government schools has been covered by several posts on this blogsite. It’s good to see Rotary getting involved, at this time. If they can keep theirs a private-sector program, their efforts should be very productive. The Education bureaucrats will only jerk them around, if they push their way in.

The “glass ceilings” encountered by victims of our government-schools system have been written about on this site, too, in several posts. Nothing constructive ever gets done about that problem. In December 2010, in a blog titled Everybody’s Cheating, I outlined clearly the stand-off between the Immigration authorities and private-sector employers.

Those particular authorities would rather have Cayman’s private-sector disappear altogether than compromise their dream of total state control of the private-sector workforce. Theirs is the same ideal that Communists have, if you think about it. God help us!

In the absence of improved education, the glass ceilings will last as long as government schools churn out graduates who don’t know the differences in usage and spelling between lose and loose, their, there & they’re, and here and hear, and so on and on. Seem and same, too, in Cayman. What can be done?

One thing that could be done, which I wouldn’t mind getting involved in myself, is to hold classes (free to all comers) in what could be called “Conversational English”. Since the major fault lies in written English, not spoken, it may seem an odd title; but to call it by a realistic name (“Learning proper English” or “English as a foreign language”) would offend the political establishment, and the bureaucratic one too. Would “Through the Looking-Glass Ceiling” be creative enough, do you think? You never know.

A child who is never taught proper grammar, and writes “he is suppose to be here” or “he trick me”, doesn’t know what a past participle is. A smart child will usually correct his usage by paying attention to the way words are used by others, in speech or in writing, but if he doesn’t catch all his mistakes he will be dismissed as ignorant. In speech, he may receive the benefit of doubt – but in writing, not. Emails provide a harsh test of English usage, as we see from comments on Internet forums and the like.

Is punctuation even a tiny part of any syllabus in government schools these days, anywhere in the world? It’s hard to tell. Few high-school graduates seem to know when to use which marks, and when not. Unwarranted apostrophes commonly betray an ignorance of plural and possessive forms that has survived thirteen years of schooling.

Greengrocers can be forgiven for advertising tomatoe’s and bean’s, because they write a special dialect of English called (jokingly) Grocerese; but in other contexts the usage simply screams, “I am ignorant beyond redemption; ignore everything I say”. Why haven’t our state educators sorted this out before now?

In many cases, it will be necessary to teach something about the origins of words and expressions. Explaining the differences between the origins of premier and premiere, rogue and rouge, would surely be more satisfactory than insisting on learning the differences by rote. A hare-brained person would be explained as one having the erratic thinking pattern of an excited hare. A hair-raising experience, on the other hand, has nothing to do with hares, however excited.