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Grammar school

Two signals of the development of the human brain into something which gave Man primacy over other species, or so we may like to think, are its ability to pass on acquired knowledge via speech and then literacy.

There are a number of examples of the former in animals and birds – two examples that immediately spring to mind are using stones to break eggs or shells, or (as with chimpanzees) using a longish twig or plant-stem to ‘collect’ ants from ant-hills, and so on – but, as far as we can tell, these are all learned, as are hunting skills amongst predatory species, by youngsters watching their parents or older relatives doing these things either for themselves, or sometimes ‘demonstrating’ the skill specifically to teach the next generation the means to survive.

However, literacy is something that appears to be unique to humans. It’s a wonderful thing, whichever way you look at it. There’d be little science – and therefore few sophisticated civilisations – without it.

Let me expand. We can presume that, one day in ancient history unspecified, some literate intelligent human being, being possessed (whether or not he or she knew it at the time) of a ‘science-friendly’ and enquiring mind, must have read a text that then represented the apparent sum of all human knowledge on the natural world as it exists upon Earth – and, picking upon one particular piece of that ‘knowledge’ –  thought to themselves “Nah, that’s not right. [How do I know that?] Because I’ve observed something quite different – e.g. when a volcano erupts – myself”.

Thereafter he or she, perhaps in conjunction with others with whom they’d discussed the matter, would have ‘tested’ their knowledge again to check, or maybe they didn’t, and then written down their own observations and theory that challenged what went before.

And thus began the eternal process of scientific debate.

And then much more besides, of course, because – instead of treating the time-honoured texts passed down by generations as the equivalent (e.g. in religious scripture) of the God-given ‘Tablets of Stone’ discovered by Moses – once historical documents/texts of all descriptions had become no longer regarded as ultimate ‘truths’, but rather ‘a basis for discussion’, the development of human civilisation in all its diverse manifestations, and indeed humanity’s seeming ‘control’ of everything on the planet, was inevitable.

For many of us who love books and literature the weekly jousting sessions between traditional/old-fashioned grammar expect Neville Gwynne and Terry Victor (co-editor of The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English), as refereed by Dotun Adebayo on Radio 5’s Up All Night programme, are a fixture of our listening/viewing week, not least because the participants delight in taking up polar opposite positions and teasing each other with either regular or one-off insults as they discuss and agree (or not) what is either ‘correct’ and/or perhaps ‘not strictly correct but allowable’.

I spotted the following piece on the website of The Guardian today, written by Penny Modra and Max Olijnyk of The Good Copy. Even though it will probably cause Neville Gwynne to spit out his cornflakes and/or have a serious bout of high blood pressure, it’s certainly worthy of reaching being helped to reach as wide a readership as possible:





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About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts